The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is a 324 pages paperback.
The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire – neither Offred’s nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.
Brilliantly conceived and executed, this powerful vision of the future gives full rein to Margaret Atwood’s irony, wit and astute perception.
This book had been on my to-be-read list for a while and I decided to read it when Channel 4 announced it would air a new series of the same name. I started recording the episodes to watch them once I was done with the book, but when I finally finished reading it – about half-way through the series being aired on TV – I decided I would not bother watching them.
I enjoyed the story and the atmosphere of this despotic, new-order America (enjoyed in the sense of liking the strangeness and discovering what it was rather than wanting to live in such a regime!), but I felt it was all best left to my imagination rather than watching someone else’s interpretation of it.
As said, I liked reading this novel, however the last chapter ruined part of it for me. I usually love books that end in this way, but it did not work for me in this instance; I would have been happier with one less chapter. Personal taste!
I liked the characters, the description of the regime that gives just enough to feel the madness of it and leaves enough to the imagination as to how we got there, the flashbacks into Offred’s previous life and the craziness of her current status. I had to re-read some passages wondering if I was having a dirty mind moment, realising I was reading them as intended and feeling quite embarrassed as this was happening while being in a coffee shop. A little bit like when you get to a graphic paragraph while standing on a crowded platform waiting for a train and feeling everyone must be staring at you and judging you! 🙂
One sentence really stood out for me. This book was written in 1985 and although I was only 10 years old and was not very aware of political and world events at that point, I do not believe anything was leading to this back then. Reading this in 2017, I feel it takes a very different dimension than it would have in 1985: “They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time“. If I could ask Margaret Atwood one question, it would probably be: what led her to choose this, was there anything specific in the news or in the political environment that made her think that the world would go down this road? Don’t get me wrong, this is only one sentence and it has no impact whatsoever on the rest of the story. As I said, 30 years ago, you would probably have read it and not paid any attention to it. And I think that is what makes this quite weird to me, knowing it would have meant nothing when it was written and that it is so relevant today.
Overall I thought this was quite good, but I also feel that filming a series out of it makes it a bit overrated. But I do want to read some more of Atwood’s works.
Black Sheep by Susan Hill is a 144 pages paperback (with quite a large font and wide margins).
Brother and sister, Ted and Rose Howker, grew up in Mount of Zeal, a mining village blackened by coal. They know nothing of the outside world, though both of them yearn for escape. For Rose this comes in the form of love, while Ted seizes the chance of a job away from the pit. But neither can truly break free and their decisions bring with them brutal consequences…
This was a very quick read. I enjoyed the description of a contained village more or less isolated from the rest of the world, its habits and the necessity to stick to what is considered acceptable to not become a “black sheep”. A great insight into a claustrophobic world, both above and under ground.
It is such a short story that I feel that writing much about it will be longer than the book itself, but I did like it. I would have enjoyed to read more about some characters that disappear without leaving any trace but I think that somehow, Susan Hill writes and describes a lot of events in very few words! Probably not my favourite story of hers, but I still enjoyed it.