This month we’re looking to popular culture for our literary inspiration. The TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel has been gracing our screens for the past few weeks to widespread critical acclaim. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as a result the book has shot back into the fiction Bestsellers list on Amazon despite being originally published in 1985.
The story unfolds in a not-so-distant future in which dangerously low reproduction rates threaten survival. As a result, fertile ‘Handmaids’ are assigned to wealthy couples in order to bear their children. Allowed to leave the house only in the company of another handmaid, and watched constantly by the Republics secret police (referred to only as the sinister-sounding ‘Eyes’), the lives of Handmaids are entirely restricted. The novel is based on the story of Offred, a woman seized in the new regime and forced into the role of Handmaid, from her capture and subsequent indoctrination at the ‘Red Centre’, to her posting at the home of her Commander.
Offred’s tale is told in both present tense and via flashbacks, the latter highlighting the way in which her “free” world evolved into her new situation. It is this which is the most haunting part of Atwood’s novel; the fictional setting of Gilead is not quite far enough removed from our current world to be comfortable.
Raising questions of gender, sex, religion and politics, The Handmaid’s Tale prompts discussion points that are just as relevant now as when they were published. It is this ability to transcend time that sets it apart from other popular fiction and has cemented it in the realm of contemporary classic. Definitely one to add to the ‘must-read’ list.