The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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“Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”

 

Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, is a chilling, profound and provocative look at a society thick with dystopian tropes. Atwood’s novel was published in 1985 when the religious right was on the rise, President Regan had claimed his second term in office, and the Cold War between the U.S.A and the Soviet Union was in full swing, with the threat of nuclear war ever present. Feminism was also a movement on the rise that had created a lot of tension among the people. In response to the social and political climate at the time, The Handmaid’s Tale explores what can happen when ecological issues become severe, political and religious extremism become dominant, and the structure (and laws) of a culture facilitates misogyny.

 

“A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.”

 

In this novel, America no longer exists. It has become the Republic of Gilead: a society where woman are subjugated to men. The political and religious structure of the country is run by officials, named Commanders of the Faithful; high ranking soldiers, titled Angels; secret police, named Eyes; low ranking military men, named Guardians; and ordinary workers who are the lowest strata. Woman are split into monolithic groups. The wives and daughters (of Commanders) are socially elite (among woman at least); the Aunts enforce the new laws (often brutally with cattle prongs); Marthas are women who are infertile but are considered of some use, primarily as servants; and, Econowives are low ranking woman who serves as wives and servants for the lesser men. Women who are considered even lower than these are considered invalid. Lesbians, prostitutes, adulterers, the disabled and aged get shipped off to the colonies to work until their death. The Handmaids, scarlet women both by their religiously invalidated extramarital relationships and their new social function, wear loose-fitting red dresses and white broad-winged bonnets. These clothes are designed to enforce modesty, mark them out and restrict both movement and vision, reducing their world to what they can see from between the walls of their veils. They are the fertile woman, and their only purpose is to breed. They become paired to a Commander’s household and are expected to complete “the ceremony” once every month, where they offer their body in duty and service. There is no greater blessing. Furthermore, women under no circumstance are permitted to read or write, hold no position of power or authority, have no paid jobs, and are under the complete jurisdiction of men. 

 

“I sit at the little table, eating creamed corn with a fork. I have a fork and a spoon, but never a knife. When there’s meat they cut it up for me ahead of time, as if I’m lacking manual skills or teeth. I have both, however. That’s why I’m not allowed a knife.”

 

Did I mention that woman are stripped of their name as well? Yep, they are. I get angry even thinking about it, but therein lies the power of this novel. It’s confronting and gets an emotional response. Offred, whose perspective the story is told from, belongs to a Commander named Fred, tells her tale of how she came to be where she is now. The novel follows her journey as a Handmaid, her isolation and struggles as she deals with her horrible situation while recollecting on times before the Gilead takeover, of her life before. Offred, who is never named, speaks of her husband Luke and their daughter, and how due to the world she lives in, her memory of them is slipping away. 

 

“Sanity is a valuable possession; I hoard it the way people once hoarded money. I save it, so I will have enough, when the time comes.”

 

Dystopian novels are hard-hitting, controversial and can carry large themes. That in a way is what makes them such a compelling read. Is The Handmaid’s Tale a novel about feminism, for example? Well, in a way yes. Feminism is a significant theme in the book for fundamental reasons. The story highlights the potential occurrences of a society that removes the rights of women. Think about it. Can you imagine having your bank account frozen, not being able to buy food, having your marriage recognised as unlawful, your name removed, then to live the rest of your days lying on your back, legs spread, so some man you don’t know has the sacred right of impregnating you? Disgusting, isn’t it? That’s every day for Offred. Although it’s disturbing, Atwood has written this novel with lyrical prose. The story is confronting yet is written beautifully. As usual, I will not reveal what happens in the book as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. I thought The Handmaid’s Tale was confronting, but I enjoyed the story. It’s thought-provoking, it challenged me to reflect on our society,  how I view myself and of course, how I see women. Yes, it is a work of fiction, but that doesn’t mean the reader can’t take away lessons from literature.

 

“The control of women and babies has been a feature of every repressive regime on the planet.” – Margaret Atwood

 

Just recently, this novel was adapted into a television series starring Elisabeth Moss. Produced by MGM/Hulu Television the adaptation does the book justice. It’s certainly worth the time watching it. Bear in mind, it is quite confronting. The series adds imagery to Atwood’s novel and shows the fallacy behind political and religious extremism. The scariest part of this story is that it asks the question, could something like this happen in our future?

Margaret Atwood recently wrote an essay published online on The New York Times webpage. She talks about the reasons why she wrote the novel and how it has been received over the past three decades. She also answers some questions that the book raises. I have posted a link below if you’re interested in checking out that essay. 

Again, thank you for reading.

M.

 

“Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

Raelia by Lynette Noni – Review

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4/5 stars!

Raelia is the second book in The Medoran Chronicles by Sunshine Coast author, Lynette Noni. Published in 2016 by Pantera Press, Raelia along with the first novel, Akarnae, caused much hype among readers, young and old alike. The story follows a teenager named Alex who finds herself transported to another world – Medora. The first novel sees Alex make some difficult choices, but that’s nothing compared to what she faces in book 2. Returning for a second year at Akarnae Academy with her gifted friends, Alex finds herself in a continual battle to survive the banished Meyan prince, Aven Dalmarta. To protect the Medorans from Aven’s quest to reclaim his birthright, Alex and her friends seek out the lost Meyan city and what remains of its ancient race. Alex, who is unsure of herself, knows that if she fails to keep Aven from reaching Meya, the lives of countless Medorans will be in danger. The question then becomes, can Alex save them? And following that, in a world full of magic and wonder, how can an ordinary human girl stop one of the most powerful beings in existence? Well, you’ll have to read it, won’t you?

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Akarnae by Lynette Noni – Review

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Akarnae is the debut novel of Sunshine Coast author, Lynette Noni. It’s the first novel in The Medoran Chronicles: a five-part series. Fitting comfortably in the YA fantasy genre, Akarnae follows the story of 16-year-old Alex as her life changes dramatically. The story begins with Alex arriving at her new school. On her way to enrol, Alex finds herself stepping through a peculiar door that leads out into a forest. The door, of course, is a portal leading her to an entirely new world. Alex finds herself in Medora, which is similar to earth – but far, far cooler. Alex finds her way to Akarnae, which is a boarding school for the gifted, and learns that for some strange reason she was expected there. Not only is she to be enrolled, but she will also attend classes where she will hone her skills: both intellectual and physical. Alex soon grows fond of her new friends and new world, but strange things begin to happen at Akarnae, and Alex can’t help but fear that something unexpected is looming. Desperate to find her way back to earth, Alex learns that her only hope in getting home is through the headmaster of the school who, coincidentally, is away and not due back for some time. So, in the meantime, Alex has to stay in Medora, study at Akarnae, and continue to try to understand this strange new world.

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Dealing with Challenges and Finding Creative Space

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Last night I injured myself playing a football game. I was running with the ball, changed direction quickly and *pop* (you could hear it) – my knee gave way. What followed involved lots of pain; four hours in the emergency department; multiple doctors and nurses; tests and an x-ray; a painful sleep; two more hours at the doctor’s surgery this morning, and an MRI scan. What the doctors suspect is a tear in the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) of my left knee. Now I have to wear a full leg brace and get around on crutches. I find out the severity of it on Monday, but at this stage, recovery is approximately 3-6 weeks. Not too bad for ligament damage, thankfully. I’m off work for at least a week at this stage but hopefully can get back there really soon. Why am I telling you all this? Simple: because it serves as a reminder that things in life happen. When things happen that are negative or challenging, we all have choices to make. Do we sit in frustration, play the victim and wallow in self-pity, or do we make something positive from the situation?

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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

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On a scale of one-to-ten, how serious am I about Harry Potter? Hmm, let’s see… About nine and three quarters… AHHHHHH!! 😉

Too corny? NAHHH! Everyone who knows me will undoubtedly know that I love Harry Potter. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released when I was ten years old, and now 20 years later, every time I read this series, I am flooded with nostalgia. I can remember as a child, then a teenager, then a young adult – and every moment in between – waiting patiently for the publication of the next book. Over ten years, I was able to read seven amazing books that influenced me back then and continue to affect me now. Collectively, the Harry Potter series has sold over 500 million copies since the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997. Harry Potter is the best selling book series in history. No wonder… It’s flipping amazing!

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Entering a Fairy-Tale World

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Imagination is a beautiful thing. Couple that with technical skill and the results can be stunning. I recently came across a poem by Neil Gaiman, titled Instructions. It’s a beautifully written piece of literature that guides the reader on how to enter a Fairy-Tale world. It is published in a children’s book under the same name, with illustrations by the respected Charles Vess. Take the time to read the text below and watch the brief video at the end of this post. You won’t be disappointed. What will follow are some of my thoughts on why this is so lovely.

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What Do I Do Next?

What do I do next?

The answer to this rather difficult question came from a light-bulb moment. I was having a conversation with a colleague, and he was talking about a Ted Talk that he watched. He began to describe this talk in vivid detail, and I found myself hanging off every word. I felt motivated, inspired and ready to go, you know, to make something happen. But what?

I reviewed my passions and interests, and through thorough investigation, I decided that I need to invest in myself, just a little bit more. Those who know me, know me as a charismatic, energetic zookeeper who plays with tigers. Those who know me well, know that although I love my career, I am a massive bookworm, fantasy nerd and aspiring author. Not only have I always wanted to intertwine these two careers, but I’ve also wanted to become established in both.

I think that too often we lump people into categories and stereotypes, and suggest that they have to fit into “column A” or “column B” to be successful. The question is, can you dare to fit into both, or better yet, create “column C” as your own? Creating your path is often considered dangerous, risky and unconventional. Unfortunately, unlike those who are subjective to societal expectations, I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t like being generalised or categorised. My goals, my passions and my endeavours are entirely my own. It’s what makes me, me.

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