The Handmaid's Tale
fails in its attempt to create a believable, realistic dystopia. It seems that Atwood wrote the book as "watch-out-for-the-evil-conservatives" propaganda. Once again, dystopias only work if the socio-economics behind the story make sense. In this respect, Brave New World
is entirely believable in its search for entertainment, 1984
is only slightly less believable, and The Handmaid's Tale
is a bit on the fantastical side. I suppose that the great nuclear holocaust rebooted society (as it were), resulting in the type of lean economic climate that often gives rise to conservative governments. All the same, I wonder what happened to society's fundamental values (e.g., equal gender rights).
It was interesting to see the dystopia through a woman protagonist's eyes; so often in these classics, women play a supporting role to the chiefly ideological man-versus-government conflict. And while Atwood rightly makes us bristle at the poor treatment of women in that society, one wonders how long it would actually last. The matter isn't if
a revolution will occur but when
There's an interesting theme through dystopia of banning books, either in general or merely books that contradict official government ideology (cf. 1984
, Fahrenheit 451
et al.). This is also present in The Handmaid's Tale
, and many people who care about literature will agree that one should have access to any and all books. I wonder what would have happened in the world of The Handmaid's Tale
if The Handmaid's Tale
itself had been banned.
So what's wrong with The Handmaid's Tale
? The usual problems that plague dystopia: ideology trumping characterization, themes reaching near-propaganda status, non-specific character redemption moment near the end (designed to trick the reader into forgetting that the author hasn't actually developed the characters). These issues are prevalent throughout the genre; if you're looking for classic but fresh dystopia, I recommend no work more highly than Brave New World
I didn't particularly enjoy The Handmaid's Tale
. I think there's an unfortuante tendancy to overcompare works within a genre, which is something that Goodreads no doubt lends itself to (as an example, look at any negative reviews of modern fantasy; two to one they'll say "it's not as good as Tolkien"). I tried to avoid that as best I could in this review, but ultimately I think Brave New World
is a better, more thought-provoking dystopian experience.