Consider this not a ground-breaking work of literature. Consider this not a piece of fiction boasting an avant-garde mode of narration.
Consider it not a commentary on the concept of subjugation of the weak by the ones holding the reins. Consider it not a thinly veiled feminist diatribe either.
Instead, consider The Handmaid's Tale
an almost physical experience. Consider Margaret Atwood a fearless deliverer of unpleasant news - a messenger unafraid of dishing out the bone-chilling, cruel, unaltered truth and nothing but the truth.
Move over Bram Stoker. Move over H.P. Lovecraft. Fade away into oblivion, Edgar Allan Poe. Disappear down the depths of obscurity, Stephen King. Your narratives are not nearly as coldly brutal, your premonitions not nearly as portentous.
Because Ms Atwood, presents to us something so truly disturbing in the garb of speculative fiction that it reminds one of Soviet-era accounts of quotidian hardships in Gulag labour camps.
Speculative is it?
Aren't the Offreds (Of Fred) , Ofglens (Of Glen), Of warrens (Of Warren) of Gilead equivalent to the Mrs So-and-So-s of the present, reduced to the identity of their male partners? Isn't the whittling down of a woman to the net worth of her reproductive organs and her outer appearance an accepted social more? Isn't blaming the rape victim, causing her to bear the burden of unwarranted shame and social stigma a familiar tactic employed by the defense attorney?
Hasn't the 21st century witnessed the fate of Savita Halappanavars
who are led to their untimely deaths by inhumane laws of nations
still unwilling to acknowledge the importance of the life of a mother over her yet unborn child?
Doesn't the 21st century have materially prosperous nations
governed by absurd, archaic laws which prohibit a woman from driving a car?
Doesn't the world still take pleasure in terrorizing activists like Caroline Criado-Perez
with threats of rape and murder only because they have the audacity to campaign for female literary icons (Jane Austen) to become the face of Britain's 10-pound note?
Do I not live in a country where female foeticide
is as normal an occurrence as the rising and setting of the sun?
Are we still calling this speculative fiction?
Some may wish to labour under the delusion that the women belonging to this much vaunted modern civilization of ours are not experiencing the same nightmare as Offred and are at perfect liberty to do what they desire. But I will not.
Because when I look carefully, I notice shackles encircling my feet, my hands, my throat, my womb, my mind. Shackles whose presence I have become so used to since the dawn of time, that I no longer possess the ability to discern between willful submission and conditioned subservience.
But thankfully enough, I have Margaret Atwood to jolt me back into consciousness and to will me to believe that I am chained, bound and gagged. That I still need to break free.
I thank her for making me shudder with indignation, revulsion and righteous anger. I thank her for causing bile to rise up my throat.
And I thank her for forcing me to see that women of the present do live in a dystopia like Offred's United States of America. We just prefer to remain blissfully blind to this fact at times.Disclaimer:-
I mean no disrespect to the other writers mentioned in this review all of whom I have read and deeply admire.