The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - review by Paul Ableman

Paul Ableman

After the Revolution

The Handmaid's Tale

By

Jonathan Cape 324pp £8.95 order from our bookshop
 

Margaret Atwood’s new novel is a future phantasy. It is set about fifteen years in the future and also about fifteen years after the American revolution which is, if the chronology can be believed, about to take place in the USA. The upheaval, according to her book, will be instigated by neo-Puritan forces bent on putting the social clock back to something like early Colonial times (albeit with modern technology). It is clear that the author is deriving some part of her inspiration from the resurgence of Islamic Fundamentalism which is plaguing Shia Muslim parts of the world. She has not, however, taken into account the gulf between social orders which have never fully evolved into modern societies, such as Iran, and pace-making cultures like that of modern America. This failure is matched by others which have scattered implausibilities throughout the book.

We are, for example, invited to believe that because of radioactive waste and food additives, the vast majority of women have become barren and babies are now the ultimate status symbol and reward for success. For this reason a corps of young women, who have demonstrated their fertility by having

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter