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Several people asked why I hated The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

I'm afraid I'm one of those people who tends to forget the details of books, movies, and such. As time passses, eventually I can only remember the mood I was in when I read/watched/listened to it and a general affection or dislike of it. The only thing I can remember about The Handmaid's Tale is that it depressed me in such a way that just depressed me.

To unpack that: A lot of books depress me but I like them anyway because I think the author has gotten at some essential truth that I don't often see gotten at, and the fact that we share this viewpoint gives me hope and makes me feel not-alone, even if it's a depressing viewpoint.

I didn't get that sense with The Handmaid's Tale - which isn't to say the author didn't get at any essential truth (given how many smart feminist people like the book, she must have), but just that I didn't pick up on it at the time I read it.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 28th, 2005 11:53 pm (UTC)
I had a similar reaction to that book - but then, I don't think I've read anything of hers that I /did/ like. She just doesn't do anything for me.
Nov. 29th, 2005 12:52 am (UTC)
Atwood's definitely an acquired taste. I love her (and loved THT) but I don't recommend her without reservation the way I do many other writers.
Nov. 29th, 2005 12:46 am (UTC)
Thanks for the elaboration!
Nov. 29th, 2005 12:53 am (UTC)
I, too, found the book depressing. For me, it was the sense that it was all too possible. A tweak to reality here, a shift in thinking there, and voila! dystopian future. *shudder*
Nov. 29th, 2005 01:05 am (UTC)
I never liked the book, either, but that's mostly due to having read an essay on the topic by my brother-in-law, which basically pointed out that Atwood's only real point was that life would be hell for women... if life were specifically designed to be hell for women.

I wish I still had a copy of that essay, because my brother-in-law has such an incredibly witty, caustic style of writing.
Nov. 29th, 2005 03:20 am (UTC)
Heh. That's nicely put.

I think what made the book interesting for me was the occasional resonance between the ways it depicted life's being designed to be hell for women and the ways I'm aware of that life *has* been so designed in some parts of the world. That the book was on one level so over-the-top ("This just isn't going to happen here"), and yet, from a global perspective, almost plausible ("But something like it happened there") was sort of affecting for me.

But these days, if I want to think about the life of women in misogynistic totalitarian states, I'm more likely to go for memoir than dystopian fiction.
Nov. 29th, 2005 02:41 am (UTC)
Atwood's portrayal of fundamentalist theocracy doesn't seem completely authentic to me; nevertheless, I found the book very chilling when I read it, particularly as I recognized its setting as a place where I used to live.
Nov. 29th, 2005 02:56 am (UTC)
I did not enjoy the book. As I recall, it made me squirm in a most unpleasant way. I know it was supposed to be a cautionary tale and one that gave highlight to women's rights by way of stripping the heroine of the most basic of them, but it didn't work for me.

I think The Left Hand of Darkness tackled the same issues from an entirely different perspective with entirely different results. A friend of mine (the Philistine!) pointed out that Atwood gets a better response because Leguin uses "too many words".
Nov. 29th, 2005 03:00 am (UTC)
I think "squirmy" is also part of how I felt.

I like The Left Hand of Darkness a lot.
Nov. 29th, 2005 04:17 am (UTC)
I like Margaret Atwood's style, but I never really feel satisfied after I read one of her books. I always have at least one niggling irritation about some very basic part of the setting.

The problem, I think, is that I read a lot of science fiction. Margaret Atwood carefully denies writing any science fiction, and she's right -- she's always a half-step to the left of plausibility. That bothers me.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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