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Arbie's Unoriginally Titled Book Blog

It's a blog! Mainly of book reviews.

Currently reading

Basics of Plasma Astrophysics
Claudio Chiuderi, Marco Velli
Progress: 58/250 pages
Ursula K. Le Guin: The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena / Stories and Songs (The Library of America)
Brian Attebery, Ursula K. Le Guin
Progress: 454/700 pages
Aurora: In Search of the Northern Lights
Melanie Windridge
Progress: 205/320 pages
A Student's Guide to Lagrangians and Hamiltonians
Patrick Hamill
Progress: 7/180 pages
Complete Poems, 1904-1962
E.E. Cummings
Progress: 164/1102 pages
The Complete Plays and Poems
E.D. Pendry, J.C. Maxwell, Christopher Marlowe
She Stoops to Conquer and Other Comedies (Oxford World's Classics)
Henry Fielding, David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith
Progress: 159/448 pages
Gravitation (Physics Series)
Kip Thorne;Kip S. Thorne;Charles W. Misner;John Archibald Wheeler;John Wheeler
Progress: 48/1215 pages
I Am a Cat
Graeme Wilson, Aiko Ito, Sōseki Natsume
Progress: 410/638 pages
The Complete Novels of Jane Austen
Jane Austen
Progress: 651/1220 pages

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

Anyone who followed my status updates will know I struggled with this book, particularly in the first half. The graceful prose could not compensate for the complete absence of plot. Instead we have an extra-ordinary focus on the minutiae of life that eventually becomes painful. I pushed through this for two reasons:

1) I'd never seen anything negative written about the book as a whole and therefore was continually expecting something to change, possibly something amazing to appear. A brief incident at 1/3 of the way turned out to be a false dawn but gave enough hope to get me through to when the real story starts at half way.

2) I could understand what Atwood was trying to achieve with all that minute description; Offred's life had been reduced to such - there was nothing else for her to focus on - there was no narrative in her life - no incident - just tiny experiences in a mundane, excruciatingly narrowly circumscribed existence - hardly a life at all. 150p of such, even somewhat intercut with memories of events leading up to her current situation, proved to be hammering the nail long after it had been hit home, though.


When it finally arrives, the plot is not much, either and exists more to show the corruption extant in this Brave New World than to tell an exciting story and we are finally led to the denouement, the story ends abruptly and ambiguously.


The book is hugely redeemed by the "Historical Notes" however; far from being the tidied up working notes of the author or a chronology of the future history as I had feared, it is a crucial part of the novel itself that made me feel that the book was a decent effort.

Part of my troubles were down to the fact that I was more in need of an exciting adventure story than a sledgehammer political warning about the dangers of the Religious Right of the USA, which is hardly Atwood's fault. As such it works well but to be effective it needs to be read by young people - that is, people in schools - and perhaps the most profound comment in the entire books is, "Our biggest mistake was teaching them [women] to read." Mass education is the best thing that can happen to women - and men, too. It's appalling that this isn't a given for everybody, worldwide.


There's no escaping the fact that this is a novella's worth of material diluted to novel length, though.