Book Reviews of The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
ISBN-13: 9780385490818
ISBN-10: 038549081X
Publication Date: 3/16/1998
Pages: 311
Rating:
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 780

4.1 stars, based on 780 ratings
Publisher: Anchor Books
Book Type: Paperback
Reviews: Amazon | Write a Review

59 Book Reviews submitted by our Members...sorted by voted most helpful

reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 6 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 28
Published in 1986, this book has the profound ring of George Orwell's 1984. Perhaps the era called out to Ms. Atwood. I don't know. But her tale is only a little less grim than Orwell's.

The Handmaid's Tale is the story of Offred (short for Handmaid of Fred). Separated from her identity, child, husband, and all connection to her past life, Offred has but one purpose in life -- to have a baby. She is a lady assigned to a high-ranking official's house. His wife is childless, so Offred's job is to bear a child by him. This is her only function in the household.

In her time and community, anyone who deviates from the society's doctrine is tortured, publicly killed, and left on "the Wall" for all to see. Most women have no names, no rights. It is illegal for them to read. Divorce is impossible, as is running away, since security checkpoints are instated for just the purpose of ensuring everyone stays just where they're supposed to.

Offred spends her time reminiscing about her past life when she had a career, friends, a husband, and a daughter. She imagines all of the possible fates of her loved ones and dreads her own.

Her character is not particularly brave or intelligent. She is not a heroine who will rise above this situation with little effort. One can imagine that she is at least an ordinary woman with strong feelings, not the least of which is fear -- fear of pain, of loneliness, and of death.

The society and its ways reveal themselves slowly. The narrator seems to assume that no explanation is necessary. This is a strong point for the book, which does not insult the intelligence of the reader, but leaves it to him/her to determine certain facts and draw certain conclusions on their own. It reminds me of The Giver also, as it reveals slowly such truths that the narrator seems sometimes to take for granted. Such truths sometime change the way you see other events from earlier in the novel. It's strongly written.

Also, for James Joyce lovers, there is the sense of stream of consciousness. Later, in the Epilogue, we find out just why it seems that way. In the meantime, you feel as if you're wandering through the thoughts of a woman desperately trying to hold her sanity together. It makes me think of the women in Afghanistan when the Taliban was in charge. Educated women were forbidden from working anymore and needed a man to conduct any business for them. There are similar echoes here.

Except that it is not radical Islam that plays a central villainous role. It is Christian extremism which preaches that the woman is subservient to the man, that divorce is adultery and punishable by death, and that anyone who does not follow "the way" is a sinner who must be harshly and swiftly punished.

The tale is rooted in fear. What could happen in a society consumed by such fear of each other, of the government, of outsiders? Margret Atwood centers her story on the females and what the regime does to them. But there are inklings that many males also suffer -- particularly those who are not well off or influential.

It's a good book -- about 300 pages and a real page turner. Very suspenseful. But difficult to read. So many things in it are quite appalling. It will get you thinking, though, about extreme Christian movements and what might happen if people without the purest intentions found their way into power and began using religion as a weapon. I don't think that this could actually happen (optimist that I am) in the US in my lifetime, because I believe that people are inherently good. But then, it happened in Afghanistan, didn't it?
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 158 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 18
I am a serial re-reader -- If a book really gets stuck in my head, I revisit it like an old friend over and over again. I may read it from cover to cover or only spend time getting reaquainted with my favorite parts of the story. That said, I've read The Handmaid's Tale at least 10 times -- and counting. I love dystopian literature, and this is one of the best in my opinion.

The novel tells the tale of the heroine Offred (not her real name -- in Atwood's future, women are addressed by an explanation of who they belong to, i.e., "Of Fred.")Society has crumbled, and some unexplained global tragedy has occurred leaving most women sterile. Those who can still conceive -- the Handmaids -- are forced to bear children for those who can afford it, society families, military men and those in good standing with the new uber-spooky government. Big Brother is hard at work in this book, which still terrifies me every time I read it. One of my Top 20 books without a doubt. Just writing this review makes me want to pick it up and begin the story all over again. [close]
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 13 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 6
Very interesting. A nightmarish projection of the future and a harsh analysis and critique of women's traditional roles. Rich with suspense and emotion.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 4 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 6
This would make an excellent book club book. Great fodder for discussions. It was a very bizarre book, but a bit too sci-fi for me. I also felt the ending left too many questions unanswered.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 18 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
this book was hard to get into, it took a lot of effort to really start enjoying the novel. but, once it starts picking up and making more sense, it's hard to put down. it's definitely worth the slow start!
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 9 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
Haunting tale of the horrors of gender roles in a futuristic society.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 47 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
In a world where women are no longer allowed to read, in an age of declining births, women are only valued if their ovaries are viable. Excellent book for book club discussion groups.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 36 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
My first reaction was that I didn't like this because I must not like dystopian literature. But after some reflection, I didn't like this story because too many elements were disjointed. I finished reading this because I wanted to figure something out mainly, something about the main character. The narrator drops clues about herself, and in the hopes that those clues would lead to more back story about her, I kept reading. All to no end. I suppose, the main character is left non-descript as a way for the reader to project some of our own expectations / experiences onto her. But for me, that results in nothing but blah. What does that say about me? Im not sure except that I simply like to read about a protagonist that is more fully realized than this.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 13 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
The quintessential feminist dystopia. Highly recommended.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 63 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
This is without a doubt one of the best books of all time. The US government has been crippled by nuclear war and overthrown by a Christian Theocracy, which subjugates women and persecutes anyone who does not subscribe to the stated belief system. It's strict and secluded. The theocracy claims to protect its people, its women from how the world used to abuse them through rape and sexualization, by blaming the women and then perpetuating a worse sort of lifestyle. This book focuses on the story of one Handmaid, Offred (a name given to her after becoming a Handmaid). You can tell that Atwood is coming out of the feminist movement, as well as the backlash against feminism- Serena Joy was a lot like Phyllis Schlafly, who was quite vocal in her sense of traditionalism for women (and popularly, her stop ERA movement). Offred wasn't born a Handmaid; she remembers what life was like before and how the US changed. Much like the political apathy of today, most people in the US just slept or shrugged their shoulders, convinced that their world would go back to normal soon enough. By then, it was too late. Atwood's way of drawing out Offred's emotions, of putting visuals and sensations captivated me. I couldn't put this book down it was that addictive. I really felt what Offred was feeling and I understood why and how she came to be what she was. I only hope that the ending is what I believe.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 181 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
The Religious Right has officially taken over and all women lose their rights. On top of that they are also facing a reproduction crisis due to all the toxins used. Because of this, any woman that is considered fertile (has given birth in the recent past) becomes high commodity and are reprogrammed by Aunts and sent to homes deemed worthy. The women are used by the man of the house in hopes of conceiving. The creepy way that it is required by the powers that be to conceive is hard to read because I just couldnt imagine human beings using another in such a way. Suffice it to say, the Handmaids (as they are called), are not well liked by the wives of the head of the household and they must tread lightly.

The Handmaids Tale is told from the POV of Offred and her life in the Republic of Gilead. After being reprogrammed she is sent to her new home. She, of course, remembers a time when she was had freedom and wore what she wanted and even had a job, a husband and a child. Now she is considered nothing more than a womb. If she wanted to leave this service she would be stripped of her title and become unwoman and sent to the colonies to do manual labor. The way it was hinted at is that this is something you do not want. In fact, many a Handmaid has taken her life instead of facing the current future or the alternative.

The Handmaids Tale was a decent read and Atwood definitely built a scary world. I personally would have loved if there were some further explanations to the events that happened that caused the Religious Right to take over so quickly. I just wanted more from this novel. The whole time I was reading The Handmaids Tale; it played out in my mind as an old black and white movie and I felt really disconnected from Offred. Worth a read if you like dystopian novels but wouldnt say it would be top priority.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 40 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
I really enjoyed this book. It took me a while to get past the vagueness and just accept reading it for what it was, but it was worth it. As the narrator revealed her story and shared more and more - the more I appreciated the way the book was written.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 84 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
I'm only halfway through this book and find it utterly fascinating! When you first start reading it, it sounds as though it takes place in another country, or perhaps, just a simpler time, maybe the 1700s or 1800s. The way they dress, the simplicity in their eating and shopping. But then Atwood hints at the fact that things didn't used to be this way....there are cars, and the main character Offred reminisces about college life, cigarettes, and Elvis songs. I found myself devouring the story to find out just how the country (as it appears to be in the story so far...Detroit as it "used to be" is mentioned) got to be so different from how it is today. Can't wait to finish it!
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 636 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Wow. Margaret Atwood really is a great writer. I really enjoyed this haunting novel of the future. Written in 1985 - it had many points that made it seem shocking to read today (from the Islamists to the return to the religious right) in its predictions. The end was, I suppose, slightly uplifting, but all in all, it was a truly depressing, but great read.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 8 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Good book. It wasn't quite as anonymous as The Road, to compare apocalyptic circumstances-but it was anonymous enough to get the hamster wheel squeaking. I was reversing scenarios(men, instead of women)& comparing to more recent times. I could write a 10 page essay on this book with relative ease. I am definitely eager to get my hands on a copy of this movie. Probably at the library. From what can see, the cast is perfect-but that is another kind of review. The writing was very captivating and although it was a shorter book than what I have been reading lately I found that I wanted to slow myself down to really enjoy the style of the author... which is why I know it is a favorite. I can't wait to find another of Atwood's books. I have been recommended to read "Cat's Eye" Cat's Eye, so I think I might.Margaret Atwood
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on
Helpful Score: 1
Incredible, chilling, a must-read.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 13 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
An engrossing read. The story of one woman's struggle to maintain her indenpendence in a government gone bad.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 15 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
I was really affected by the ending of this book. Make sure you read the "Historical Notes" at the very end. It changes the whole perspective of the book.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 11 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984, I found this novel strikingly disturbing/absorbing/enthralling. This author's perception of how America could become without drastic change on our parts is motivating. You can bet I'll be voting in every election throughout the rest of my life. This earns a 5 all the way.

Spoiler Alert!!!

One of my favorite parts of the book:

âCome now,â he says, âI'm interested in your opinion. You're intelligent enough, you must have an opinion.â
âAbout what?â I say
âWhat we've done,â he says, âHow things have worked out.â
I hold myself very still. I try to empty my mind. âI have no opinionâ I say.
He sighs, he knows what I think all right.
âYou can't make an omelette without breaking eggs,â is what he says. âWe thought we could do better.â
âBetter?â I say, in a small voice. How can he think this is better?
âBetter never means better for everyoneâ he says, âIt always mean worse, for some.â
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 40 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
The Handmaid's Tale is an elaborate but disturbing product of Atwood's imagination. She developed a woman's version of 1984....where, in the unknown future, women are given useful yet degrading positions in society and all the power goes to men. This book is a wonderful story.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 7 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
A phenomenal dystopian novel, with political details that are especially relevant today. If you liked 1984, you'll love this book.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 3 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Futuristic idea but also very old school concepts. Margaret Atwood is a talented author who keeps your interest throughout the book.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 47 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Hummm Highly rated, well-written, good basic concept, but I did get tired of the various sex scenes however, to the author's credit, that was one of the central points in this writing. Some good creative themes are in this book... it is not necessarily pleasant but definitley well-written.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 26 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
What a trippy book that makes you really, really think! It's the future, but the consequences of war make the future into a society you won't recognize. You find yourself cheering for the main character and hoping she wins!
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 8 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
How I loved this book! I read it before I had a daughter and again after. It truly is an incredible book, though I do not recommend it to someone with a new baby girl.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 207 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Chilling novel about what the future could bring to our society!
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 10 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
I really enjoyed the story. The author showed this "new" society to us while allowing the main character to compare it to her previous life in multiple flashbacks. It involves religion, gender roles, freedoms, education and so much more.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on
Helpful Score: 1
Very interesting book. It really makes you think how easily something like this can happen and all of the freedoms we take for granted could be gone. It's eerily close to things that have indeed happened in the past. Great book for the deep thinker.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 21 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Very good book..provokes much thought on gender rules,church and state today and the near future.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 10 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
I really enjoyed this book. I am a fan of Margaret Atwood and was not disapointed by this book. The thing I liked most was how the story was set in our future, but was like living in the past. Good quick read.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 8 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Excellent historical fiction, read it for my book club. Descriptive, easy to read felt like I was watching the story unfold.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 76 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
What a strange book! I'm still not sure if I really enjoyed it or not. While reading, I had so many questions that were never answered. I wanted to know more about Gilead and how it was created. I wanted to learn about the society prior to Gilead. Why was there such a disdain for women? How did the Commanders come into power and how they were able retain it? The historian in me really wanted to know the how's and why's. In the end, a few questions were answered for me; the main one being why the limited perspective from the Handmaid. But there were not enough answers for me.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 47 more book reviews
Reading this book left me very conflicted. Did I enjoy it? Well, yes - most of it. The story was quite well developed and the author did a marvelous job creating the main character through whose eyes we view the story. Much of the narrative was painfully slow and caused me to skip a number of pages and I don't feel I lost any of the story. I understand what the author was trying to accomplish when she wrote the detail, but that doesn't me I had to like it - or read it for that matters.

The books ending was very disappointing. Perhaps the author felt she needed to leave it where she did, in view of the rest of the story, but that doesn't mean I had to like that either! Glad I read it, wouldn't read it again.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 3 more book reviews
At first, I was hesitant to read this book but I love Margaret Atwood so I decided to give it a try. Engrossing to say the least. I read the entire book in about 3 days. At first, I was a little confused as to what was going on but after the first few chapters I really started getting into the book. I definitely recommend this book to everyone.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 51 more book reviews
This was my first Atwood novel and it made me fall in love with this author! I love all of her other books (for the most part.. Surfacing was a little too out there for me). To me, this book was very similar to 1984, but instead of a government taking control of every aspect of citizens' lives, it's a religion. A thought-provoking read.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 11 more book reviews
Amazing. Brilliant. I love this book.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on + 55 more book reviews
A must read for those who enjoy apocalyptic novels! Lots of detail that takes you into the lives of women who live in an unbelievable world -- a world one can picture now, in some ways. Highly recommend!
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Frightening story about religious beliefs mixed with social policy and its effect on the family (mostly women). It is out of control.
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This book knocked me off my feet. The horror that the world could turn into that in a blink of an eye. This book was written in the 1950s, but if the events of September 11 happened how it was "supposed" to go, we might be here. Who knows? The prologue was confusing, but otherwise I was captured by this book and its style. You have to keep up with it, but it isn't terribly difficult. This should be mandatory high school reading or college. (There are some curses and sexual suggestions.) As a woman, I am PROUD to say I make my own money, support myself and can make decisions. This book shows what prejudice and racism can lead to.
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Strange but good. Futuristic tale of women who are added to a household for the purpose of bearing a child with the man of the house.
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This was a very interesting book! I recommend reading it!
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really absorbing - it made me think!
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I really enjoyed this cautionary tale.Certainly not a world I would like to live in-really makes you think.
01/07/18 I just have finished reading the book again. I am truly disturbed by the book and frightened how it echoes to the world events around us today. This should be on your To Read List.
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I really enjoyed this book. It's not the genre I usually choose, but I loved it and had a hard time putting it down. Very thought-provoking.
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Kind of an odd style, I didn't like it as much as Oryx and Crake. It seemed to be one of those "feelings" books. After reading some reviews that pointed out that Atwood was writing in the general style of Chaucer, I guess it makes more sense. Supposedly, this takes place in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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I thought this book was pretty interesting. But it wasn't the best book I've ever read.
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I didn't care for this one. I really like the idea of future worlds like in The Giver, but this one didn't hold my attention.
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One of the best books I've read this year.
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Excellent read.
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My bookclub read this and everyone enjoyed it a lot. It was a little disturbing in parts but to our surprise we couldn't put it down.
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Interesting correlation to things things in government today and effects they will have on women. Good book, can't wait for the bookclub discussion.
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on
A little difficult to get into but it is interesting if a bit dark and disturbing. Worth taking the time to read though - it gives one a lot of food for thought . . .
reviewed The Handmaid's Tale on
Wow! This may end up being one of the BEST books i'll read in 2018! It is going up on my shelf with 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451. The tale told in this book seems all too possible with our present day theologically-laced politics in which a right-wing authoritarian regime is in control of our nation, and has the unconditional support of the evangelical christian machine. Today, the U.S. is ripe and fertile (no pun intended) for a Gilead-esque movement to take power and assume a form as described in this book. But what really astounds and impresses me with this authors prophetic vision is that this story was published in 1986! The accuracy with which she paints the future, which is our today and tomorrow, is frightening. Looking forward to reading more from Margaret Atwood, and to checking out the movie that was filmed in Durham, as well as the recent Hulu series on this story. This is truly a must read.
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Thought-provoking, but it leaves so many questions unanswered. Also, the writing is mediocre.
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I've been trying to think all night long how to review this book. I still don't believe that I can write something of value to add to help you pick or not pick this book. I will tell you that I kept waiting for some sort of something that never showed up. It will be oppressive at times and at others just plain out there. Just glad I didn't live it. :)
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I know this book is supposed to be a modern-day classic, but I just could not get through it.
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Great story
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Loved the movie, the book was definitely different.
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Futuristic fantasy