During the Dystopia Challenge, Amy of Addicted to Books told me how much she loves dystopian fiction, and how she's looking forward to reading The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I invited her to review it on my blog and here's her reaction.
[Blurb from Amazon: In a startling departure from her previous novels (Lady Oracle, Surfacing), respected Canadian poet and novelist Atwood presents here a fable of the near future. In the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, far-right Schlafly/Falwell-type ideals have been carried to extremes in the monotheocratic government. The resulting society is a feminist's nightmare: women are strictly controlled, unable to have jobs or money and assigned to various classes: the chaste, childless Wives; the housekeeping Marthas; and the reproductive Handmaids, who turn their offspring over to the "morally fit" Wives. The tale is told by Offred (read: "of Fred"), a Handmaid who recalls the past and tells how the chilling society came to be.]
"I honestly did not enjoy reading this book. I disliked more than I liked. I came into reading it with huge expectations and was sorely disappointed.
"It was extremely confusing and I almost needed to read the summary of the book to began to understand. I have to say, once you mildly get the gist of it, you realize how insane it is. The type of society depicted in The Handmaid's Tale is, I wouldn't say probable, but still frightening to imagine.
"It started out boring, and I kept hoping it would get better... but it never did. I didn't like how she was making the point that all Christians are hypocritical bastards. Yes, some are, but people are human. I just felt like she was zeroing in on this one religion when the fact it, the majority of Christians are tolerant, kind people. So that's my main problem with the book.
"Overall, The Handmaid's Tale is way overrated. It is not light in the least. Do NOT read it if you're looking to be entertained or excited about the book, like I was. While it is very intelligent and it certainly makes you think (perhaps it makes you scratch your head more than think), it's not exactly interesting. Finally, I would not recommend this to teens, unless you are highly mature for your age. Heck! Even I didn't comprehend much of it. :-D"
I'm so bummed you didn't enjoy this one Amy! It's several years since I've read it but I do know I found it intriguing and enjoyable. You're right, probably not for teens because it's a tad "literary", ie. the ending is bizarre and Offred doesn't even introduce herself properly until halfway through the book.
In my opinion there's no shame in reading summaries or critiques of books in order to understand them. I do it all the time! Some writers are just too damn clever for their own good. But I find that it's worth going in pursuit of a little understanding, because when it does click, it's such a good feeling.
If Atwood calls the Republic of Gilead "Christian", I don't think she's drawing direct comparison between the Christianity of her fictional world and the Christianity of today. As I remember it, everything in Gilead is a warped, unhealthy version of what it is (and could someday be) in this world--like English Socialism in Nineteen Eighty-four, which isn't socialism at all, but totalitarianism. Who's read this book recently? Does this sound right?
As I said it's been a long time since I've read it and the film version has wiped most of the book from my memory. The film you might find more palatable--heroics and romance, and a neatly tied-up ending, but it also keeps the main messages of the book. As I remember it. But again. It's been so long.
You've prompted me to read it again, Amy, and have a good think about it while I do!