The Handmade’s Tale was written in 1985 and I think I had seen some but not all of the 1990 film adaptation when it appeared on TV at some point but I had never read the book. The closest I had got was Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales which I read while writing my Masters dissertation on the depiction of Jews in literature. When the TV series and the sequel, The Testaments, were released I thought it was about time I gave it ago and so I downloaded the audio version.
The book is set in a near future dystopia in which the United States Government has been toppled by a theonomy, in other words a Christian government where society is ruled by devine law, and explores the themes of subjegated women in patriachal society. Like its sequel, the book was awarded the Booker Prize
Atwood categorises the book as speculative fiction and wrote it at a time when the religious right in the US was discussing what they would do with women if they took power. She extrapolates what might happen if one took these ideas to their logical conclusion.
She claims that she : “didn’t put in anything that we haven’t already done, we’re not already doing, we’re seriously trying to do”.
She also describes the book as a: “study of power, and how it operates and how it deforms or shapes the people who are living within that kind of regime.”
I enjoyed the book so much that I immediately downloaded the sequel which I am listening to at the moment. In some ways I have found the sequel to be more shocking and graphic that the first although I imagine that I would find both even more shocking if I were a woman.
The Testaments is set 15 years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale. It is narrated by Aunt Lydia, a character from the previous novel; Agnes, a young woman living in Gilead; and Daisy, a young woman living in Canada.
We see in more detail how the regime came about and what happened to those resisting the campaign in neighbouring Canada, Atwood’s homeland.
My own current work in progress, which is tentatively titled WHEN THE CHICKENS COME HOME TO ROOST focusses on the build up to the collapse which sets the scene for my dystopian novel WHEN THE WELL RUNS DRY.
Like Atwood, I am finding it difficult to write a fictional near future dystopia because the present keeps revealing itself to be more fantastic than fiction.
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