The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

“There is more than one kind of freedom,” said Aunt Lydia. “Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.”

4/5 stars.
Re-read on August 25, 2019 to August 28, 2019.
ebook, 322 pages.
Originally read June 2011.
Paperback, 311 pages.

I am unimpressed with my younger self and the impressions I initially had with this book. I must not have had the emotional intelligence or wherewithal to truly grasp the raw and gripping moments in this story or maybe the recent current political atmosphere has opened up my eyes to some of the real themes that are present in this book. I reread this book in the anticipation of it its sequel that was just released this September.

This was my original and very poor review from the first time I read the book back in 2011.

This novel was hauntingly interesting and a scary thought of what our future could potentially hold. I enjoyed the story but I wasn’t overly enthralled. The story is similar to that of a female version of Orwell’s 1984 so I guess Atwood’s story felt like something I was already familiar with. This isn’t entirely Atwood’s fault as this novel was written in the early 1980’s so I can imagine the impact that this book would have had with these kinds of radical and dystopian types of ideas and would have certainly warranted a Governor’s General Award. Overall, I enjoyed the novel but it is not at the top of my dystopian novel list.

Pffft, see? Kids these days, I tell ya. Thank goodness I grew up a little.

Offred is a Handmaid in the morally righteous and strict society of Gilead. She doesn’t want to be one, she was forced to be one and her own daughter and husband are snatched away from her. The declining birth rates have ‘forced’ the hands of religious fanatics to alter society and ‘cleanse’ it to what they believed to be a pure and functional society. Women are stripped of their careers, finances, and worth and forced back into the homes and put within strict roles that the leading men, the Commanders, thought appropriate: Marthas, the caretakers, cleaners and cooks for the homes of Commanders, Wives, upper-class women who have the privilege of being allowed to marry and may or may not have children, Econowives, the poor women who can’t afford to have Marthas, the Aunts, women who have found a “higher calling” (AKA the ones trying to find a way out of getting married) never marry or bear children and tasked with educating and training women in each group, and of course the Handmaids, fertile and often rebellious women who fit into none of the categories and are forced to serve Gilead by being sent to Commander’s homes to bear children for them.

I think that Offred’s story is even more relevant than it was before and that this story will speak to a new generation of women who are still fighting for rights and autonomy over their own bodies.  I’m also thankful that there is a sequel as I had forgotten how much of the ending left you hanging. Not that I would change it but it will be good to see the follow-through and hopefully what eventually happens to Offred and Gilead as the end *spoiler alert* of the story implies that the Gilead society did, mercifully, eventually crumble.

There was something about reading this for a second time that hit me emotionally where it missed this first time. I think it’s a combination of things, for one, I’m at an age where I’m considering having children and am worried about my own fertility, that I am disturbed by some of the backwards movements that have happened a little too close to my home country, and that I’m a little more learned and aware of some of the issues and challenges of being a woman and I’m finally starting to realise how not okay I am with it. On top of that, Atwood’s writing is a pleasure to read as it is concise and highly engaging.

This is a book that should be read in schools and then re-read later on, like I did, to appreciate the full horror of this story. I cannot wait for the sequel and I hope that it continues to push and question societal issues surrounding women as this book has.

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

“We are all drowning slowly in the tide of our opinions, oblivious that we are taking on water every time we open our mouths.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 386 pages.
Read from December 13 to December 22, 2018.

I was actually hoping to get a copy of this book on Netgalley but when that didn’t pan out my library saved the day. This is the first time I have read anything by Jodi Picoult and I’m impressed with this timely and politically relevant book on a topic that most authors would shy away from.

The lives of regular everyday people, coming from all walks of life are all brought together in this story from one tragedy. The author pulls you in from the first page with this reverse timeline narrative on women’s reproductive rights in America as a gunman has entered a woman’s reproductive centre. Each chapter provides the reader with a different narrative and approach from the people who are trapped inside this terrifying situation. As the timeline reverses from the point just before the climax of the novel you begin to piece together the lives of the people in the centre, the choices that brought them there that day and the how regardless of their views they are all caught up in the same horrific circumstances together.

“Your religion should help you make the decision if you find yourself in that situation, but the policy should exist for you to have the right to make it in the first place. When you say you can’t do something because your religion forbids it, that’s a good thing. When you say I can’t do something because YOUR religion forbids it, that’s a problem.”

It’s obvious that Jodi Picoult did her homework with this novel as she is able to bring in widely conflicting views on one of the most sensitive of topics of our time. In her afterward, she mentions interviewing numerous women who have had abortions as well as staff from clinics.  Each her characters has intensely well-rounded and fully formed perspectives and reasoning for their beliefs and choices and the author does not push the reader in one direction or the other and broaches the topic with integrity and grace.

What I felt was important from this book is that is that it showed some general and very real situations of how many women come to need an abortion service, especially outside of the scary situations like rape, incest or medical necessity, as well as topics of race and why controlling women’s reproduction has become such a violent priority in America.

The reverse timeline worked in building anticipation in the story but I feel that it also created a bit of unnecessary repetition and occasionally, confusion. Overall though the writing style is approachable and easy to read and easily explains this author’s mainstream popularity with her ability to reach such a wide audience. After this novel, I can assure that this won’t be my last Jodi Picoult novel.