I reread Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale earlier this year and my goodness, it felt more pertinent and devastating this time around. It is brilliant. Beautifully written. A powerful and painful experience that I highly recommend.
I first read The Handmaid’s Tale – ooh, what? – almost 20 years ago. It was one of the texts on my English degree and for two now-obvious reasons, much of it washed over me.
First, I was cramming so many novels, scripts and poetry collections into my bonce that book-fatigue made it hard to fully engage after a while. Second, let’s face it, I was a daft 19-year-old with all the privilege in the world who, at that point, had been through very little in the way of crap life things.
In some ways, The Handmaid’s Tale was just another book I had to read. That meant the seriousness and significance of the novel’s plot and premise passed me by. I suspect that goes for quite a lot of my reading when I was at university. My shelves are still full of books that I read at that time. But how many can I truly remember? Not sure.
Anyway, though my memory of The Handmaid’s Tale was pretty sketchy, I did remember how much I admired Atwood’s writing. One of her earlier novels, Cat’s Eye, which I read when I was still at school, was one of the key moments in me wanting to write fiction of my own. I just loved the way she ended chapters. The single sentences that knocked the wind out of you.
And of course, that’s all there in The Handmaid’s Tale too. The TV series and current political climate has brought the novel to a much wider audience and a new generation of readers. It is very much an important book. But it was always an important book. I just wasn’t paying enough attention.