Met up with the banned book club to discuss this book Thursday night. Largely positive thoughts about the storytelling approach presented, but let me see what all I remember — a theme within the book by Margaret Atwood that we did discuss at length:
A. thought the book was okay but that the premise itself was shaky; how could a society flip from freedom and equality into the cultural restrictions that Offred records so quickly? Our Glorious Leader, B., bought up Pol Pot as an example.
A. also thought the religious aspects were – and I’m putting words in his mouth here – wishy washy. Like it was hard to determine if people really followed the tenets of a religion with this, or if religious trappings were merely the means to the end in terms of controlling women – and men as well – by forcing them into their “god given” societal roles.
T. brought up the fragility of memory and we all agreed with him that memory is fallible. Within the story we’re relying on Offred’s recollections of events from how many years ago? And there in the text are examples where she’s admitting to making shit up to make parts of the story better, or to make an experience less horrifying or sad.
K. said that it was her third time reading through and this time she really connected with the character of Janine, which caused a bit of debate over the meaning of strength: the willingness to adapt to any situation regardless of what it will do to you and your self worth; or the rebellion and refusal to yield to the outrageous regime as Moira does – B.’s favourite character on his third reading.
Q.K. came along for comic relief and general contrariness. He doesn’t tend to read these books with us; he just comes to socialize but does ask questions that help the rest of us think of another way to explain a plot point. In this case, the end of the book in a far future where academics look back at the society that was Gilead and Offred’s tape recordings of her time in it.
M. (that’s me, Minion) pointed to the way the stories mingle — Offred’s narration on the tapes, the backstories she provides of the before times, the made up stories of the futures she hopes her husband and child had instead of what probably really happened, her variations on a story as she described scenes between herself and the Commander (Fred) and Nick who’s willing to sleep with her for Fred’s wife’s sake (Serena Joy) who hated the Handmaid arrangement of Offred sleeping with Fred to hopefully give him a baby Serena would then call her own. That was a ramble.
What else… T. talked about a trip to Poland and East Germany in the ’70s when he was 20 and felt the tension of military presence on a train. In terms of Poland, it was a trip to visit family and since they were still behind the Iron Curtain at the time, they had different, veiled thoughts about the value of freedom and what you don’t miss until it’s gone.
B. brought up Norway and their antidepressant use but I forget the exact why that was mentioned. It’s true though, as I poke around. They’re heavy users as a country, even as the country won top honours for being the happiest according the UN. At least this year. Denmark usually wins and overall they use even more antidepressants – but nowhere near Canada, Australia, Iceland and the United States. The top four globally.
Q.K. talked about a board game he liked where land was organized by levels of stability, which got B. to talking about democracy versus Communism and China and how a historian on the radio recently (likely CBC), talked about rule of law being more important in terms keeping a society from falling over.
Finally, in terms of voting for the book and reasons, most went 8-8.5 with T. and A. going 7.5 and 6.5. For me, I said that what I liked best overall was the use of language to paint the world and make the reader see it. Also, the themes within the book can place the book anywhere in any era pretty much and a reader will still get the points and get something out of it.
It really is a good book and worth reading. Great speculative fiction. Not science fiction. Being very clear on that. That’s important.
(Banned Book Peeps – how did I do?)