Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

​​”Nolite te bastardes carborundorum”

Genre: Dystopian fiction, feminist fiction

Similar to: Obviously this is the original but Naomi Alderman’s The Power.

Could be enjoyed by: Everyone. This is a really important book to read.

Publication date: Unbelievably, way back in 1985

I’ve kind-of-unintentionally been reading a lot of feminist dystopian fiction recently so I thought it was only right that I should go back and read the original novel that kick-started the who sub-genre; The Handmaid’s Tale. Plus it pops up on literally every top 100 books ever and I felt really bad that as someone who identifies as a feminist I hadn’t actually read it. I’ll have to think of a new “I’m a feminist but ..”

The novel depicts a terrifying future where the world has been plagued by disaster. The rise of ultra-conservative far-right politics has attempted to provide salvation and increase the dangerously low birth rate by introducing a new world order. Women beyond child bearing age are employed as “Marthas”, domestic servants for the political leaders.”Handmaids” are women who can, in theory, have children (having already given birth – although their children have been taken away) and are used to breed with the powerful men – like a one-woman harem living under their roof. The wives of the powerful men have been left to be housewives, banned from having their own jobs or income. Anyone disagreeing with the ultra strict rules is either hung, tortured or sent to the colonies; the radioactive wastelands where they will work, suffer and die. In that order.

It is truly frightening how prescient this novel is. I see wacko Trump supporters with their misogynistic rhetoric, their thirst for power and the slow erosion of women’s rights and I think – is this where we’re headed? Is the Handmaid’s Tale a vision of the future? For that reason alone, I think this is an incredibly important book.

I loved the unnamed narrator (her name is only June in the TV series) and I was really rooting for her to fight back. I liked that she wasn’t some kind of mastermind freedom fighter but a terrified ordinary person who sometimes made mistakes and bad choices – it made her far more authentic and I could see myself making those same errors of judgement if I was in her shoes. 

I loved the examples of female friendship, both in the time before and during her resistance to the regime and how it was a network of women who were working to free themselves from the situation they found themselves in. There were so many examples of bravery and defiance from various different female characters and I enjoyed reading them all – from the subtle to the overt to the downright suicidal. 

Throughout the novel, questions of morality, religion and the role of women were repeatedly asked. I thought it was so clever that Atwood made extreme situations almost plausible and I loved how it seemed like none of the characters were fully bought in to the ideology – they certainly weren’t happy – and yet there was no collective challenge to the regime. She showed how utterly effective fear can be in controlling a population – even if they then have to do the most unthinkable things and a brilliant illustration of power and privilege – the more power you had, the less you had to play by the rules. I thoroughly enjoyed the way that Atwood presented these ideas without seeming judgemental or forcing her own perspective on the reader. Needless to say, the writing was brilliant throughout and I whizzed through the book in a couple of days.

I know a lot of people have criticised the ending of the novel but I liked that it finished on a cliffhanger, with the ambiguous outcome suggestend through someone piecing together historical fragments years later. In that way, Atwood kind of let you choose your own ending and I felt like there was a moral in this too – as if she was pointing out that this extreme situation could absolutely happen (and in certain parts of the world, already has) so we have a choice, right now, whether to ignore the slippery slope of casual misogyny, homophobia, racism, ableism etc. or fight against it. 

Overall, I loved The Handmaid’s Tale and I’d urge everyone to read it. It’s a gripping read, very well written and a chilling reminder that we must stand up for what we believe in before it’s too late. 

Rating: 🌟Five “Under his eye” out of five 🌟

Prescient, important and morally terrifying, this is an incredible novel and a horrifying example of what probably started as “locker room talk”. 

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #3 Read a classic of genre fiction.

 

Review: The Apollo Illusion by Shari Lopatin

“Where nothing is ever what it seems”

Genre: Dystopian Suspense, Sci-fi, YA, Speculative fiction

Similar to: The Hunger Games.

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of YA, especially if you feel like you’re growing out of the genre a little.

Publication date: 19th May 2018

Disclaimer: I was approached by Shari to review her new book, The Apollo Illusion and although I usually turn requests like these down (“it’s about a spatula that turns into a person” – no thanks) I read through her biog and the blurb of the book and thought “actually…this sounds pretty good”. Then I read that Shari was nominated as Cat Mom of the Year so I said yes immediately. I just want to make it clear that even though I was directly approached by the author and I’ve had some correspondence with her, my views are entirely impartial, these are all my own words, obviously I’m not being paid etc. etc.

Good ☺. Glad we’ve cleared that up.

So, The Apollo Illusion. After reading oh-so-many YA books recently that made me realise I was far too old to connect with them, I was really hoping for a novel that still spoke to me even though I’m (eek) 15ish years older than the main characters – and this book doesn’t disappoint. Yes, it’s dystopian YA and yes, it’s a crowded marketplace and yes, there’s a lot of similarities and tropes but I really felt like The Apollo Illusion brought something new to the table. More importantly, I really enjoyed it.

Flora and Andrew are best friends from the year 2150, living in Apollo; an isolated city surrounded by a wall – and you’ve guessed it, they’re not allowed to know what’s on the other side. However, unlike every-other-dystopian-fiction-ever, Apollo itself is, well, actually pretty amazing. It’s an odd mix of 1950’s grow your own veg charm, with the socialist ideal of free education/healthcare etc. and all the technological and societal advances of 2010. The residents send text messages, have libraries, read print newspapers, and use phrases like “bros over hoes” (I really hope that phrase has died out in 130 years time). However, despite living in such a utopia, Flora wants out. She’s got an insatiable thirst for knowledge and wants to know what’s on the other side of that damn wall. Her curiosity gets her into hot water with the authorities, and with a sudden change in her fortunes (plus a meeting with a shady emo boy who looks like a member of My Chemical Romance) she realises that escape might be her only option. Cue drama, plot twists, a will they/won’t they relationship and a frankly terrifying version of the future.

At first, I was a bit unsure about this book. I really liked the writing, the characters and the literary references (gotta love a bookish character) but the world building seemed a bit off. I mean, print newspapers 130 years from now? Surely a book set ten years in the future wouldn’t have those – let alone text messages or photocopiers? All I can say about this is – go with it. I can’t reveal too much but suddenly, everything becomes clear. It’s a proper “ohhhhh, I get it” moment. 

I loved the main characters of Flora and Andrew. I really liked that they were both a bit older than your average YA characters so their relationship was more complicated – and therefore more interesting. It allowed for deeper emotional issues and there was even some casual sex thrown in for good measure which made the whole thing feel far more realistic. I especially loved how Flora grew from a bullied young girl to a gutsy heroine with her fearless quest for the truth and I was so pleased to see the feelings that she and Andrew had for each other grow organically, with setbacks, insecurities and basic dumb bloke stupidity all hampering their burgeoning relationship. No insta-love here!

I found the way the The Apollo Illusion presented two alternative versions of the future (one for the residents of Apollo and one for the other side of the wall) to be really thought provoking. I loved how the good and bad in each setup was explored and the questions that this threw up: is it better to live in blissful ignorance of the lies, corruption and amount of control that the government has or is it better for citizens to have free will – even if that extends to being able to act in ways which are detrimental to society? Should you trust the government to “control” the population, and is the loss of your freedom ultimately worth it if it means you can live in a peaceful society? Weirdly, I found a lot of parallels with the current Facebook scandal as well as the wider political climate and I’m still thinking through my feelings on these issues. 

On the downside, there were a couple of plot points that kind of niggled at me whilst I was reading – I found a certain encounter between Flora and another character a bit too coincidental and there were a couple of instances where I would have thought the authorities would have been all over them but I loved how the story played out and how the action just kept coming. I have to say that I did feel a bit let down by part of the ending – it felt to me like a kind of compromise was reached between characters who would have had a more all or nothing approach – but it made for some lovely subsequent scenes that rounded things off nicely.

Overall, I couldn’t believe that The Apollo Illusion was written by an indie author – it’s so professional and flowed far better than many novels put out by major publishing houses. I loved the characters, their relationships with each other and the action packed storytelling that kept me engaged all the way through. I thought it was a really exciting, enjoyable read – especially if you’re a fan of dystopian YA.

Rating: Four emo boys out of five.

Pacey, exciting storytelling with great characters, loads of action and a super cute romance. What’s not to love?

Look! Links to where you can pre-order The Apollo Illusion!

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