Quick review: The Handmaid’s Tale (book)

In this review, I am talking about The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel written by Margaret Artwood and published in 1985, in which Offred, a young handmaid, is sent to a family to be the surrogate womb of a couple that can’t carry, in a society where women have no right anymore.

The Handmaid’s Tale is getting more popular now thanks to the recent Hulu series, but since I don’t subscribe to Hulu, I decided to read the novel instead. Written by Margaret Atwood and published in 1985, the Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel set in the nation of Gilead, a post-USA theonomic state that is run through a very literal application of the bible. Basically the utopia of white christian (male) supremacists. In this wonderful new country, we follow Offred, who has fallen really low in the social hierarchy, first because she is a woman, and then because she tried to escape this magnificent paradise. The really wise men in power probably didn’t understand why on earth (which is flat obviously) she’d want to do that, so they placed her in the very charitable position of being the surrogate womb of an unlucky couple who can’t have kids, and that way, maybe God will forgive her for her sins. Or else she’s a useless eater, and she would get the rope treatment, 3rd Reich style.

It’s not a story of great heroes. It’s a story of survival and resilience. It’s the story of the people who end up living in a despotic government and keep their head down, accepting every humiliation hoping that some day they will see brighter days. People are not all ready to fight. Here, the resistants seem to exist, maybe, but they are in the background, while Offred is the narrator. It’s her story, her struggle to stay alive until she can find a way out. She tells it from the beginning: she intends to survive. She will do everything she’s asked to do, because she has no other choice. She tried her luck once and she was lucky she wasn’t executed or sent to a labour camp, thanks to being able to carry a child, so she will carry one again, for someone else, and maybe have a better opportunity later. But what opportunity? That’s the biggest question mark. She doesn’t know what would become of her after she gives them a child, especially since it’s the beginning of the new government and they don’t really have thorough regulations on the matter. But she only have hopes, hope that her daughter is fine, hope that maybe her husband has survived, and that’s the only thing that keeps her going.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a really great and frightening story. It’s great because the story is so well crafted that it seems all so plausible. And it’s frightening because, well, it seems so plausible, especially when we hear what some US officials say nowadays. This tale shows us what’s the worse that could happen if we let evangelists and christian extremists run a country, and the thought I couldn’t get out of my head all the time I was reading was that in this novel, the government falls after a coup d’état, but in my opinion this kind of situation is more likely to happen without a civil war. With years and years of carefully escalated despotism, until the time it becomes impossible to stop it without a fight, a theocratic government could be installed without a real struggle. Maybe they didn’t think that it was plausible back in the 80’s. After all, the only example they had of a new theocratic government was Iran, and it had to go through a violent revolution to put it in place, so I can imagine they didn’t think people would willingly vote for the same person who would gleefully take that right to vote away from them, even though it happened before.

I can only recommend this novel. It’s a cautionary tale in the same vein as 1984 and deserve the same appreciation, while we are still allowed to read.

Review: Backward and in Heels

I wanted to kick off my first book review on this website with a non-fiction that I have read recently. Backward and in Heels is an essay written by film critic and journalist Alicia Malone, who went into book worming and film archaeology to dig some of the most influential women who worked in films throughout its short history.

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Backward and in Heels

I wanted to kick off my first book review on this website with a non-fiction that I have read recently. Backward and in Heels is an essay written by film critic and journalist Alicia Malone, who went into book worming and film archaeology to dig some of the most influential women who worked in films throughout its short history. All of the women who appear in that book have had so much impact on the film industry, that it’s hard to understand how some of them are almost forgotten now. So that’s the objective of Alicia Malone: to give back the credit to these wonderful people who made history but where left behind.

It’s gonna be short because I actually don’t have much thing to say on the content. It’s a deeply researched document that used multiple sources such as essays, interviews, and of course films to report these stories as best as she could, gathering details of there lives that gives them depth. Bibliographical sources are listed at the end of the book, and somehow, I kinda regret that they’re not directly referenced, in more details, in the text, but I have the sense that the author didn’t want to give a feeling that her essay was too academical, so it wouldn’t scare away people interested in the subject.

Aside from the biographies, it goes into the issue of the representation of women working on films before and now, and how the mainstream industry has an implicit close door policy when it comes to hiring female directors. And despite the current trend in putting high-budget production in the hand of amazing female directors, the ratio is still unbelievably unbalanced toward men (spoiler: it’s been about 12% women for ages). So she interviewed current essayists who launched huge projects to really go to the bottom of this, compiling data over thousands of films, and statistics are astounding, showing that this ratio is not the result of a lack of interest by women in this field, but the consequence of an unfair an blatantly sexist selection along the way that undermines the will and spirit of women to make a career in film. As the saying goes (quoted from the book): “Men are hired on expectations, women are hired on experience”

So, if you’re interested in stories around cinema history, and the role of women in the industry, I can only recommend that book. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll realise how much we lack a women’s presence in this huge industry. But it’s also empowering and showing women that they can make their place in films despite the adversity, and that they have allies already installed who are making their best efforts to have a more balanced workforce.