The Handmaid’s Tale

A Life Loved Book Club

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Before I introduce you to our first book, The Handmaid’s Tale by the fabulously eccentric Margaret Atwood, let me briefly tell you about myself; I’m Julia Gallacher: Slightly less eccentric, and a lot less fabulous, but also an author.

I’ve been writing books since I was 15, though my first novel, The Tree of Nine Worlds, was only published last year. I love to read stories with interesting characters, and I’m a massive fan of the Byronic hero (or heroine) – flawed characters whom us mere mortals can identify with, whether they live in ordinary stories or fantasy and science fiction. I try very hard to create characters who really come alive through their pages, and there’s nothing more exciting for me than reading things that help me advance that craft. I spend the rest of my time copywriting, editing, and cooking yummy food for my ridiculously handsome husband.

But enough about me, let’s talk about Margaret and The Handmaid’s Tale.  Margaret Atwood is an award-winning Canadian novelist and poet. I met her at an event in Montreal in 2013, where I cleverly – or so I thought – asked her what writing exercises she uses to help her write. To which she replied, in front of hundreds of eager listeners: “What, like pretend to be a triangle?”

Yours truly, of course, was immediately swallowed by the ground, never to be seen again. No, I went up to her a little later, rather sheepishly, and she asked me about my own book (she thought it would be fun as a graphic novel. I can’t draw. That was the end of that discussion. Still, it obviously means we’re great pals).

Anyway, Margaret Atwood is the founder of The Writers‘ Trust of Canada, which encourages Canada’s writing community. She’s also widely known as a womens‘ rights activist, and often portrays female characters struggling against the patriarchy in her novels.

Which brings me to why I’ve chosen The Handmaid’s Tale as our first book. You see, the A Life Loved Book Club won’t be just any book club. I want to take you on a journey of literature featuring female heroines through the ages: From traditional women of days gone by, to free-thinking feminists, and repressed dystopian (or – sadly – real life) characters. Hopefully we’ll all learn a little more along the way, no matter where we stand on that spectrum of mindsets.

Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum*

Now, The Handmaid’s Tale is a 1985 dystopian novel set in a near-future America, where a totalitarian Christian theonomy has overthrown the US government. It’s an eerily fitting choice for our current time (whether you support the orange cheeto or not). Beyond that, nobody can argue that The Handmaid’s Tale is absolutely everywhere at the moment (including the newly televised series).

I found an interesting article about The Handmaid’s Tale during my research, which noted the book’s focus on power, and how it is used within society. More recently written books tend to focus more on the self (despite the fact that the self can’t ever completely escape from power). Perhaps this is a subconscious sign of our times: Power is everywhere nowadays, at times almost crushingly so. And while I by no means identify as a revolutionary, I too sense the wish to escape those surroundings in a good, self-centred novel which moves far away from any kind of politics.

The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t that kind of book, but rather a description of a disturbingly close and frighteningly realistic dystopian reality. It’s not a positive book or upbeat read, and, for fear of scaring off more right-of-centre readers, I’m not suggesting it as some sort of political warning. It’s rather a really interesting look at one imaginable worst case scenario, and I can’t wait to read responses from both the traditional and modern thinkers – and everybody in between.

With that said, happy reading!

J x

Discussion questions

  1. Do you think Atwood’s vision of the future is realistic? Why or why not?
  2. If you were in the narrator’s situation, what would you have done?
  3. What would this story look like if it hinged on male, rather than female, fertility?
  4. Why are women forbidden from reading in this society?
  5. What do you feel the historical notes at the book’s end add to the reading of this novel? What does the book’s last line mean to you?


* ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’ means ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’ in Latin. It is the title of the fourth televised episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, as well as the phrase that the book’s protagonist, Offred, finds carved into her closet – left by the previous handmaid.

Header image via Paste Magazine.

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  • 1) I think this could be a reality at least in some smaller ways e.g the rise of more conservative politics however would hope that this is not the case!!

    2) I think I would have done similarly, I would have daydreamed about escaping but I’m not sure I would have built up the courage to do so! I like to think though that I would try and find out more about my loved ones if possible and try to rebel in small ways.

    3) I think the story would be very different, male fertility isn’t discussed anywhere near as much as women’s. On the group the other day someone pointed out that in every tv series where infertility is covered it is always the woman.

    4)Reading allows learning and knowledge which is power. Repeatedly throughout the book it is discussed about how the next generation won’t know what to miss, not allowing reading ensures that views aren’t challenged!

    5) I really didn’t like the historical notes I felt cheated out of knowing what happened to the narrator but also to the other characters. I guess it meant to show how we try to learn from suffering to ensure history doesn’t respect itself but I would have rather found out about the characters!!

    I absolutely loved the book Julia thank you for bringing it to my attention!! Sorry comments have been delayed!

  • I wrote about the TV show of The Handmaid’s Tale for ALL this week, and I fully plan to re-read the novel in the next weeks (and before series 2 comes out!!) so I can join this discussion!

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