I have finally reached the halfway mark with the one and only The Handmaid's Tale. Surprisingly, this book never made it on to any of my reading lists in grade school or university. Somehow, I have read this book until now. Not that I avoided it or felt anything towards it initially, but, after finishing this novel, I can't help but feel cheated. I feel like this novel cheated me out of a full story, and left me with an unfulfilled feeling. Yes, it is my own fault for loving the happy endings of stories, the kinds where all of the knots are tied nicely. Scratch that, I don't need it to be happily tied in a bow, just tied together. And yes, while I appreciate that this is a well established, highly esteemed novel, I am left feeling discontented and, frankly, angry.
First of all, this is definitely a novel for those who love language. It is the words that make this book (cause let’s face it, nothing really happens until, roughly, page 200). And while I enjoy language-- I have a hard time understanding sentences like:
"His face is long and mournful like a sheep's, but with the large full eyes of a dog, spaniel not terrier" (26)
Leaving the sheep aside (an animal which I have never thought as particularly mournful) what is the difference between the eye of a terrier versus a spaniel (and I ask this as a dog person)?
What is the difference? Is one more loving, more mournful, more needing? Or is she merely saying that this man, Nick, is like a dog?
This is not the only time Atwood mentions dogs, but I shan't go into all of those references in this reflection as I think I have made my initial point.
Atwood also uses this exact sentence structure when she our protagonists explains that she " tell[s] the time by the moon. Lunar, not solar" (249). Out of curiosity, how do you tell the time by the moon solarly? Ah, well, perhaps these sentences are better left for the literary geniuses and not the general public.
The world Atwood creates is intriguing and one which the reader wants to learn more about, but part of the catch 22 is that the narrator that we are following doesn't even know about her own world because, as Atwood explains in the question and answer section at the end of the book "it would be cheating to show the reader more than the character has access to. Her information is limited. In fact, her lack of information is part of the nightmare" (398). As the reader I say...great, just great. So we basically read about a dystopian world and **SPOILER ALERT** just when things are actually about to happen the narration/manuscript ends and we are left with an “Anne Frank effect”, of looking back through records trying to decipher, through process of elimination, what actually happened. Oh, and to top it off, we can't really make sense of anything. So what about her child, Luke, her mother, Nick, her commander, and Serena Joy? What about the eyes that just took her? What about her own fate? WHAT IS HER REAL NAME?! The only thing that we know is that she had time after the events of the novel, to record the events. Like I said I enjoyed the world, the language was intriguing and poetic, but I am left feeling cheated
Up Next: Moby Dick