Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Good things: Back to school and Margaret Atwood

It's hard to imagine how much anxiety I had last year over my daughter starting kindergarten. Especially considering with what zeal I dropped her off today for First Grade! In all seriousness though, my daughter seems to be one who thrives in a group setting (good thing I hadn't had plans to homeschool) and her behavior lately has indicated that she is ready to go back. We've talked about the fact that First Grade is going to be a big change from kindergarten, so I'll be interested to see how she handles that. I just can't wait already to pick her up and find out how things went!

I am still trying to get caught up with my reviews and I'm almost there. Last Monday evening, my book club got together to discuss The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. It wasn't until I reviewed The Blind Assassin here that I realized how strongly people feel about Atwood's writing. I personally began with her book Alias Grace just because I thought it sounded good and have gone on to read many of Atwood's novels. I don't think I ever felt intimidated by or scared of her writing as others have told me they are.

This was my second reading of The Handmaid's Tale and I definitely enjoyed it even more this time around. I think this book is best read when you don't know too much about the story. The main character, Offred, is a Handmaid under a regime that has stripped her of her family, her home, her job, her money, and her rights. Sound familiar? Offred has one role and one role only - to become impregnated and bear a child for an officer of this regime whose wife is unable to. As with all of Atwood's writing, every word counts. The first time I read this book I read so carefully, as Atwood revealed the layers of this story and we learn how Offred and the others came to be living in this way. The greatest horror of this story is that it seems so real, that this could really be carried out by a government, and in fact has (the Holocaust). The second time, knowing the storyline and not anticipating the ending so much, I was able to fully immerse myself, enjoying the black humor along the way. Really, what is the liklihood that there would be laughs in a book like this, but this is Atwood we're talking about.

After I finished THM this time, I went on to read some critical studies of it online which were fascinating, pointing out symbolism in the text that I hadn't noticed. I'm frankly surprised that this book never won any awards, at least as far as I am aware. The idea, the execution, and the characters are simply brilliant. Everyone in my book club enjoyed this book, except one woman who found it 'mediocre'. Hmm.

Do come back tomorrow, I am doing something for the first time, and there will be prizes!


bermudaonion said...

I've never read any of Margaret Atwood's work, but I've read such good things about The Handmaid's Tale that I have it on my wish list. That list keeps getting longer and longer and my TBR pile keeps getting higher and higher. What a wonderful problem to have.

Sarah said...

Hopefully your daughter enjoys her first day back at school.

I'm planning to re-read The Handmaid's Tale soon as it's been a while. I think Atwood is such a prolific writer that her output varies in quality but I'm always interested in her books, which I find quite accessible.

melanie said...

I've never read Atwood. She continues to float along on my TBR list, but methinks I should move her up the pile.
Do you recommend starting with Blind Assasin or something else?

J.L. Danger said...

Atwood is one of my favorites. I just love her. Our oldest started 5 grade today, and I almost forgot! Just kidding (?)

Iliana said...

Hope your daughter had a great first day of school!

I love this book. I read it a long time ago though and think it would definitely be worthy of a re-read. I wonder how I would react to it now.

Tara said...

Bermudaonion, I just couldn't recommend Atwood enough. And yes, it is a wonderful problem, and I have it myself!

Sarah, Thanks, she did! I've only ever read Atwood's full length novels, but have enjoyed all I've read. I also find her quite accessible.

Melanie, really? The Blind Assassin is a great starting poing, or Alias Grace which I consider her most 'mainstream' novel.

J.Danger, glad to find another Atwood lover! My girl would not let me forget school!

Iliana, thanks, yes she did! For many of us in my book club, this was a re-read, and all found it fulfilling the second time. I think I would keep noticing different things. It's pretty amazing that she is writing about computerized bank accounts/cards and fighting over Islam in 1986.

Lisa said...

Hope school went well for both of you. :) The Handmaid's Tale was the first book by Atwood that I ever read, and it's still probably my favorite. You're right -- the scary part is the fact that it seems all too real in many ways. I don't really understand people being intimidated or scared off by her. I've always found her work to be very readable.