Literature is a unique experience, and it is this uniqueness that makes prose such an exciting art form. Books are not merely bland and boring pieces of battered paper, but living and breathing objects, pulsating with the lives of a thousand voices. Each book means a different thing to each person, with different books drawing us in. A person’s favourite book is not merely any old book; it becomes an inept part of their inner-being. Here, The Indiependent writers take a nostalgic moment to reflect on which books win the special title of ‘favourite’ in their hearts…
The Handmaid’s Tale // Margaret Atwood
Walk into any bookshop today and it’ll be littered with dystopian fiction. Since the success of The Hunger Games, a very specific type of book has been marketed to the young adult demographic. A tense society based around deep inequalities, accepted by everyone but liked by few – but the narrator of each specific texts changes it all. Oppression, segregation and restriction are themes that crop up everywhere and anywhere but, for me, the shining example of a dystopian novel came decades before this resurgence. Written in 1985, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a speculative, paranoia-driven social commentary like no other.
The narrator, Offred (literally Of-Fred), is a handmaid. In her new, Christian theocracy totalitarian world, this means that her ‘function’ as a woman is to bear children for rich men and their rich wives (who are presumed to be infertile). It is beyond thought in this world that a man could be sterile and at fault. Women are categorised, oppressed beyond belief, given slave names, thought about totally in relation to sex but given no sexual agency of their own, even denied their own children. It’s a fascinating portrayed of life as a woman, firstly through this constructed society which completely controls what being a woman even means, but also through the ways the women, of the same class or different, interact with each other. The reader can get a sense of both the internalised misogyny the characters have been coded with and the empathy between women that prevails. Atwood herself has denied that this is a particularly feminist text, but I would certainly tend to read it that way and I think it’s undeniable that this novel deeply explores sexism as something deeply institutionalised. This, naturally, will evoke thought in a reader about their own society of unimaginable value, especially to young women.
Words by Ashley Woodvine