sonk’s #CBR5 Reviews #21-26

Once again, I’ve fallen behind on posting my reviews to the group blog! So here is a list of my most recent reads, books 21 through 26. Follow the links for full reviews!

(And this officially means I’m halfway through with my Cannonball Read…ahead of schedule!)

#21. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (5 stars)

#22. The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan (4 stars)

#23. Case Histories  by Kate Atkinson (5 stars)

#24. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman (5 stars)

#25. The Purity Myth by Jess Valenti (4 stars)

#26. St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell (3 stars)

Robert’s #CBR5 Review #04: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Another “oops, forgot to cross-post this review” from my blog. Only two months behind. It’s fine.

The trick to creating a successful dystopian novel is to convince the reader that the wild alternate future could occur. Margaret Atwood has done it three times now with the first two books in her Oryx and Crake trilogy and the modern sci-fi classic The Handmaid’s Tale. The novels are all meticulously researched, pulling from current events, culture, and science to connect to the present understanding of the world and society.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodIn the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood relies on historical research to drive the creation of the Republic of Gilead. Various governments and social structures are combined into a believable vision of a religious totalitarian regime where women have no power in their own lives. Atwood uses everything from the mythology of the Bible and actual military revolution to push a realistic worst case scenario to its uninterrupted conclusion.

The research helps make the novel believable. Research alone, however, cannot create a compelling read. The Handmaid’s Tale generates suspense by structuring the story like an upside down pyramid. We meet Offred (Of-Fred) after the government of the United States has been overthrown and turned into the Republic of Gilead. Offred recalls how the rights of women were taken away one by one until everyone who didn’t immediately flee the country was trapped within its borders.

The broad narrative of social revolution shifts to a slightly more focused slice of life story about a typical handmaid. Continue reading

Amy’s #CBR5 Review #1: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

*I am ashamed it has taken me up til now to post, but I have been reading, I swear! just not writing…!* Congrats to all those who are reading and writing at an alarming pace!

Dystopian future novels were all the rage last year and while I did get into The Hunger Games and plowed through books 2 and 3 in relatively short order, I thought it might be nice to go a little old school and find a book that may have lived on my high school reading list.  (Hey, those High School English teachers tend to know what’s up.) For some reason I had never gotten around to reading The Handmaid’s Tale because I thought it was something to do with medieval literature (don’t judge a book by it’s title) and was too busy reading other things like Jane Eyre, which I didn’t even really particularly like.

Reading the internet like one does, I kept stumbling on strong feminist writers and couldn’t escape Margaret Atwood. She seemed infinitely more approachable than Ayn Rand and The Handmaid’s Tale called out to me across the years,so having it at my local library was just the push I needed to get started.

I have to say, I wasn’t blown away by The Hunger Games (until the very end when I cried for more than is reasonably acceptable).  I don’t really even consider dystopian future novels to be my “jam.”  But The Handmaid’s Tale was beautifully written and built slowly, with just the right amount of details revealed per chapter.  I read the book on the edge of suspense, with a mounting sense of dread, waiting for the other shoe to drop.  That is not to say that reading this book was an unpleasant experience.  Rather, it was thoroughly pleasant and mind consuming, much like when I read Neverwhere.  It was almost so beautifully written that it just barely covered the atrocities occurring within the pages.

I also really enjoyed how the book broke the fourth wall.  When it starts you’re given as little details as possible.  The story progresses like a “normal” story in that you, the reader, are detached from the character’s problems.  Soon she begins to address you, plead with you, tell you that she needs to remember or else she will go crazy. You evolve to be her constant at her side, almost a guardian angel, and she lives for you, knowing that she has to keep talking to keep from going mad. You become complicit, and also unable to escape, as trapped as she is.

I didn’t know how the story would end. I knew it was coming soon because pages were running out.  The epilogue was what really made it.  I loved how intellectual it was, and how it sounded like a real conference, a real post-mortem.  It also served as a smooth transition out of book-world into the real world.