I first read this amazing book about 30 years ago so a re-reading was in order as a prelude to her new book The Testaments. And simply put, the Handmaid’s Tale is a masterpiece. Atwood’s writing is perfect, a slow reveal of the horrors of the Gilead revolution: the rise of totalitarianism and religious fundamentalism, the loss of women’s rights and autonomy with rampant misogyny. Handmaids are possessed by men (Of Fred = Offred) as breeders and are not taught to read! It is chilling to realize that many of the regressive features of Gilead are happening now throughout the world. Atwood is a national treasure.
As a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments is equally compelling but with a very different tone. Whereas The Handmaid’s Tale had a single narrator (Offred), The Testaments (set 16 years later) has three voices: two very different young women, one raised in Gilead and one raised outside, and the notorious Aunt Lydia. The resulting story is less introspective with more action, thus less reactive. The seeds of dissent are outlined clearly and logically with some Machiavellian motivations. This is a page turner, a completely engrossing read.
This book has been on a bookshelf in my home since 1997 but somehow I have never read it, to my chagrin. Atwood’s writing is impeccable, adopting the style of the mid-1800s in letters, for example. Her portrait of the enigmatic Grace Marks is breathtaking: poverty in childhood, a hard life in service, accused of being an accessory to murder at age 16 followed by 20 years of incarceration. The context of early versions of psychiatry and hypnotherapy are detailed carefully. Overall, a joy to read.
The Hogarth Shakespeare project enlists accomplished authors to retell Shakespeare classics (e.g. Hamlet retold by Gillian Flynn, Macbeth retold by Jo Nesbo). Hag-Seed is Atwood’s version ofThe Tempest, and it is exceptional. First, there is Atwood’s sublime prose: “The door clicks and he walks into the warmth and that unique smell. Unfresh paint, faint mildew, unloved food eaten in boredom, and the smell of dejection, the shoulders slumping down, the head bowed, the body caving in upon itself”. This wonderful passage describes a prison, hence the evocative phrasing. And second, Atwood’s plot emphasizes a delicious revenge. So the book is great fun, with a detailed exposition of the enigmatic parts of the Tempest at the end of the book.
This book is subtitled “wicked tales” and these 9 stories absolutely are wickedly entertaining. The first three stories are particularly good as they are linked by common characters. An attractive feature of this collection is that Atwood writes about mature older characters.