Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin is a jinxed book. I have picked up this book atleast 3 times, only to put it back for some reason or the other. The book is not boring, mind you. It’s not the book itself which makes me put it down and pick up something else, but the circumstances. Whenever I pick it up to read, another book sneaks in and makes me want to pick that instead. After 3 failed attempts, I decided to read another Atwood book, so I read The Handmaid’s Tale.
The book talks about a world that is an imagination of Atwood, a world where poor women are hired by the rich to bear children. These ladies are called handmaids. This book is the story of one such handmaid and her life. I like the length at which Atwood goes to create this world. Names for classes of people – Marthas, Handmaids, Guardians and so on, names for gadgets – CompuTalk – she even creates a currency for her world. She painstakingly gives depth to each class. Handmaids are always in red, Marthas in green, Wives in blue and so on. The dress, the body language, their activities are planned to the minutest detail.
The story itself is not very interesting. The army takes over the country one day and forces its own rules on the people. Every person is being watched every minute of the day. Sounds a bit like George Orwell’s 1984? It is very similar to that. The story moves back and forth in time which makes it intriguing. I was reminded of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go which was about people being chosen as organ donors. Handmaids are no different. They are treated as baby-making machines and are expected to follow rules which make them more fertile.
The writing is awesome. There were some lines which struck me as beautiful. Atwood’s strength in this book lies in the creation of this fictitious world and the characters in it. The protagonist comes across as shallow and could have used some dimensions.
Some lines I liked:
Moira was like an elevator with open sides. She made us dizzy.
Every night when I go to bed I think, In the morning I will wake up in my own house and things will be back the way they were.
It hasn’t happened this morning, either
It was like being in an elevator cut loose at the top. Falling, falling, and not knowing when you will hit.
We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edge of print. It gave us more freedom.
The bottom line is do I recommend it? I am not sure. If you want to read an Atwood book, may be this would be a wrong choice because I am told her other books are better. If you want to read some book with this story, go ahead and pick it up.