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The Handmaid's Tale (1985)

by Margaret Atwood

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Handmaid's Tale (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
37,839107846 (4.11)2133
This look at the near future presents the story of Offred, a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, once the United States, an oppressive world where women are no longer allowed to read and are valued only as long as they are viable for reproduction.
  1. 737
    1984 by George Orwell (cflorente, norabelle414, Schwehnchen)
  2. 554
    Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (ateolf)
  3. 413
    Brave New World & Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley (fannyprice)
  4. 392
    Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (readerbabe1984, rosylibrarian, ateolf, browner56)
    browner56: Two chilling, though extremely well written, reminders that liberty, freedom, and self-determination are not idle concepts.
  5. 264
    The Road by Cormac McCarthy (mrstreme)
  6. 161
    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Schwehnchen, mcenroeucsb)
  7. 249
    The Giver by Lois Lowry (cflorente)
  8. 161
    Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (smiteme)
  9. 219
    A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (wosret)
  10. 120
    Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (krazy4katz)
    krazy4katz: An upside down recommendation, as this is an "all-women" utopia rather than a dystopia, but a fun read.
  11. 110
    When She Woke by Hillary Jordan (sparemethecensor)
    sparemethecensor: The Handmaid's Tale is the classic forerunner to dystopic fiction of sexist futures. When She Woke picks up the mantel with a more modern version of a misogynistic theocracy taking over government. Both show terrifying futures for the state of women in society.… (more)
  12. 110
    The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper (lesvrolyk)
  13. 112
    The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (smiteme)
  14. 101
    We: A Novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin (themephi)
  15. 124
    The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (wosret, Kaelkivial)
    Kaelkivial: Both stories of strong women who resist (in one form or another) the system that holds them down. Both books fairly fast paced and gripping; acts of violence and loss scattered throughout.
  16. 91
    The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (LamontCranston)
  17. 157
    V for Vendetta by Alan Moore (readerbabe1984)
  18. 92
    The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist (bookcrushblog)
  19. 70
    I Who Have Never Known Men by Jacqueline Harpman (wosret)
  20. 92
    Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (k8_not_kate)

(see all 66 recommendations)

1980s (1)
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» See also 2133 mentions

English (1,013)  Spanish (14)  French (8)  Dutch (5)  Catalan (5)  German (4)  Finnish (3)  Swedish (3)  Italian (2)  Norwegian (1)  Hebrew (1)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Arabic (1)  All languages (1,062)
Showing 1-5 of 1013 (next | show all)
I know I read this in the late 1980s when it came out but frankly, I couldn't remember anything about it except how physically ill it made me feel. I was younger and more innocent the first time around but damn, I thing it was worse reading it now, when we are nearly living in these times. ( )
  viviennestrauss | Sep 30, 2022 |
Great book! I love the dystopian feel of this book and Atwood’s writing style. ( )
  CeceliaT | Sep 23, 2022 |
"I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance.

If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off.

It isn't a story I'm telling."

Margaret Atwood's prose is shattering. It's what made me fall in love with this book in the first place, even though its actual contents, the nightmarish dystopia and the heartbreaking character of Offred are undeniably the more powerful elements of this book.

The Handmaid's Tale has turned into one of the most prolific dystopias of the last century. Its impact has increased significantly through the success of its TV adaptation (which I haven't seen yet), and through people constantly claiming that Atwood's tale must be as relevant in our society as ever before. Atwood's vision of gender domination is a steady reminder of what could happen if certain powers are allowed to act according to their free will, and thus a horrifying signal that appears to describe a society far beyond our imagination, but one that doesn't seem that far out of reach if you begin to think more closely about it. After all, there are countries in this world which aren't that far removed from attributing women similar roles as the society created by Margaret Atwood.

The plot is tense and filled with defining events, but you'd barely notice it upon reading the book. Atwood's book is not very long, but it still feels like accompanying her on an intricate journey. When the ending finally arrived, it almost hit me out of nothing - the book still had about twenty pages to go (I didn't notice those pages actually consisted of an afterword only in my edition), and I was left thinking how that could possibly have been it. But the ending also makes a lot of sense, a perfectly fitting conclusion to a stunning and richly imaginated world that will likely endure as a literary classic.

“When we think of the past it's the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that.” ( )
  Councillor3004 | Sep 1, 2022 |
There really is nothing new I can say about this, being just about the last person the planet to read this. Having said that, I wonder if reading it now is a different experience now than reading in the 80s. I wonder if it feels less imaginary now, in a world that has become seemingly more polarised, more oppressive, and with women's rights to autonomy over their lives and even their own body being undermined at every turn. In this we read of the experiences of Offred (literally, of Fred), a woman believed to be fertile and currently being a "handmaid" to an elite in the hierarchy of Gilead. Through Offred's memories, we see some of her life before, how she came to be in this position and how under threat she is at every turn. It ends with a short chapter set even further into a fictional future where Gilead seems to be no more and the value of the memoir is being evaluated by academics, including women. It is bleak, it is chilling and it feels all too possible. I can;t say it is enjoyable, but it sucks you in and you find yourself cringing and rooting for Offred in turns. Atwood can certainly write alright. ( )
  Helenliz | Aug 18, 2022 |
There is much I wanted to say about this novel, about the way its power to frighten has increased in the years that have elapsed since I first read it in 1986. I wrote a long review and then scratched it. There are many reviews here that cover every aspect of plot and meaning, no doubt; mine seems superfluous. Perhaps that is the thing to ponder after reading this novel again--are we superfluous? Do we matter as individuals when society itself can wipe us out with the sweep of a hand? Do the things we love about our lives hang by the most slender of threads, while we live in ignorance? How tenuous are the things we hold dear? Are they worth fighting for and can we not recognize the peril before it is too late?

I re-read this as a precursor to reading Atwood’s follow-up novel, [b:The Testaments|42975172|The Testaments (The Handmaid's Tale, #2)|Margaret Atwood|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1549292344l/42975172._SY75_.jpg|66802198]. I’m not sure if I am prepared for it. This one once seemed quite impossible, but now not so much so.
( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 1013 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (38 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Atwood, Margaretprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Balbusso, AnnaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Balbusso, ElenaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Boyd, FlorenceCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Danes, ClaireNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
David, JoannaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marcellino, FredCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moss, ElisabethNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pennati, CamilloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.

And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?

And she said, Behold my maid Bihah, go in unto her, and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.
                              — Genesis 30:1–3
But as to myself, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length utterly despairing of success, I fortunately fell upon this proposal . . .
                              — Jonathan Swift,
A Modest Proposal
In the desert there is no sign that says, Thou shalt not eat stones.
                              — Sufi proverb
For Mary Webster and Perry Miller
First words
We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.
As all historians know, the past is a great darkness, and filled with echoes. Voices may reach us from it; but what they say to us is imbued with the obscurity of the matrix out of which they come; and, try as we may, we cannot always decipher them precisely in the clearer light of our own day.
Time has not stood still. It has washed over me, washed me away, as if I’m nothing more than a woman of sand, left by a careless child too near the water.
The shell of the egg is smooth but also grained; small pebbles of calcium are defined by the sunlight, like craters on the moon. It’s a barren landscape, yet perfect; it’s the sort of desert the saints went into, so their minds would not be distracted by profusions. I think that this is what God must look like: an egg. The life of the moon may not be on the surface, but inside.
But remember that forgiveness too is a power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest. Maybe none of this is about control ... Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing.
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.
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Disambiguation notice
The Reading Guide Edition is the substantial equivalent the main Handmaid's Tale work, with a few additional pages of questions for groups to consider at the back. Please therefore leave these works combined together. Thank you
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This look at the near future presents the story of Offred, a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, once the United States, an oppressive world where women are no longer allowed to read and are valued only as long as they are viable for reproduction.

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Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, serving in the household of the enigmatic Commander and his bitter wife. She may go out once a day to markets whose signs are now pictures because women are not allowed to read. She must pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, for in a time of declining birthrates her value lies in her fertility, and failure means exile to the dangerously polluted Colonies. Offred can remember a time when she lived with her husband and daughter and had a job, before she lost even her own name. Now she navigates the intimate secrets of those who control her every move, risking her life in breaking the rules.
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