In my AP Literature class, I often teach George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, and tying the two novels together seems obvious. And as you might expect, The Handmaid's Tale has many similar themes and structures, although it develops the subjugation of women whereas Orwell all but leaves women out of his novel in any meaningful way. (Even Julia seems more a plot device for Winston's downfall than a real person.)
I believe Atwood's novel is important–especially in our society today. Just watch the news virtually any day and see the attempts to curb liberties, the hatred of so many groups, the moves toward tyranny. It's not any surprise that this novel and Nineteen Eighty-Four are being mentioned so often today.
Despite its importance, I wanted the novel to do more. For me, it spent way too much time with Offred sitting still, thinking about flowers, about the heat, about longing for the breeze. Yes, I know, part of the point is how circumscribed her life is under the Gilead regime. I get that. But it almost feels like 275 pages of prologue, and then 20 pages of action. I just wanted more of the sections that did make my pulse quicken, that did make me fearful. Sue me, I like plot.
The saddest part to me, ironically perhaps, was the Historical Note at the end, recounting the academic conference about her story. I have to admit I cringed reading that. The pretension and condescension... it brought back my days at academic conferences when I was in graduate school, and not in a good way.
Overall, this novel made me feel like so many Atwood novels have in the past. I adore parts of her works and during the rest, I just wish she'd get on with the story. But that's probably a failure of my patience more than a flaw in her style. I guess now I have to watch the television series, but I'm wary. I've heard incredibly different reactions to it so far. What say you?