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Library Journal Review
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. This powerful, memorable novel is highly recommended for most libraries. BOMC featured alternate. Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., Va. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
One of Canada's outstanding authors (an old poem of hers reads, ``You fit into me/ like a hook into an eye/ a fish hook/ an open eye'') has written a novel to rival Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four. It is the US nearly a century from now, its government a repressive theocracy where women are nothing and everything. They are enslaved, so this is an important feminist novel; but they serve an elderly commander whose sole function is to mechanically impregnate them, like some slave insect that quickens a queen bee. The men are few, the women many. The narrator is one of these queen bees, Offred-she belongs to Fred-and she pieces her story together slowly and with such matter-of-fact and nightmarish credibility that an entire society is realized, a horror world so muffled and enclosed that when one of the women says an innocent and anachronistic 20th-century ``hello'' to another, a chill races down the reader's spine. Although its contents are sometimes sensationalist, it is a magnificently crafted and understated novel. Unreservedly recommended.-P. Cousins, Schenectady County Community College
Offred, a handmaid living in a near-future time, endures life in a society in which women able to bear children are used for procreation. (D 1 85 Adult Upfront)
Kirkus Book Review
The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive ""monotheocracy"" calling itself the Republic of Gilead--a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile. Thus are drafted a whole class of ""handmaids,"" whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred (""of"" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's ""ceremony"" must be successful--if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband--dead--and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur--something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred (""We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices""). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization--this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest--and long on cynicism--it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence. Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.