The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood has created a claustrophobic vision of the near-future that is as lyrical as it is chilling. Truly great speculative or dystopian fiction is based in reality; the horrors of the future must be believable to have power, and this is powerful stuff.

The Republic of Gilead, the name given to the society that was once America, is a place ruled by a shadowy government of religious fanatics who have imposed their values by terror and lies. Women no longer have access to the things they once took for granted, like a job, money or even literacy. In this new construct there exists a strict hierarchy, and within that hierarchy perhaps the strangest and most precarious role is that of Handmaid. The narrator of this tale is the Handmaid Offred, a woman who once had a life and a family, but is now reduced solely to her biology: she is a walking set of sexual organs whose sole reason for existence is to give birth to a child who will then be given to the family of a high ranking political official, to be raised within the new system.

Offred’s story is told through observation, perception and intuition. As a woman, she is not privy to direct information of any kind, but must glean what she can from other women, who may or may not be trustworthy. This method of storytelling is particularly effective, as it only reveals things in brief glimpses, evoking the very feelings of confusion and loss that Offred is experiencing. Atwood has always excelled at conveying the inner turmoil of her characters, something I first noticed when reading Cat’s Eye. She is a master of highlighting the nameless feelings that make up so much of our existence and creating a narrative from the bare bones of seemingly trivial observations.

The events of The Handmaid’s Tale are presented as a reconstruction, and thus Offred is an unreliable narrator. However, this is unimportant; it is not the events so much as their emotional and personal impact that truly matter.

One of the most frightening and subversive elements of the story is not revealed until the end, in the “Historical Notes” epilogue. It is revealed that it was not until the nations of the world had signed the “Spheres of Influence Accord” that these things were able to happen. In other words, it was not until world peace was declared that the U.S. was able to turn it’s fury on its own inhabitants and create their rigidly controlled state.

It is these elements, the personal and the ephemeral, in combination with a frighteningly plausible vision, that gives this book so much power and makes it, for me, a 5-star read.