This wonderful piece of fiction won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995. It chronicles the life of Daisy Goodwill, which spans most of the twentieth century. Each chapter jumps forward a decade, through her childhood, marriage, motherhood, and later life, combining reflection on these broader themes of her life with insight towards the other banal moments that also make up living. The narrative is interspersed with photos, letters, even shopping lists, and we see Daisy through the eyes of those around her, providing fascinating insight into the notion of identity. If you want to study a master of inventive narrative and character construction, read this book!
We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.
We lived in the gaps between the stories.
Set some time in the future, the main character, Offred, has been designated a Handmaid, and her function is to endure mating rituals in order to bear a child for the couple she belongs too. The Gilead society is cruel and swift to exact punishment on those who disobey its rules. But Offred remembers a life before this, where she had a husband and daughter. Unable to forget the freedom she has known, she makes dangerous choices, and is slowly drawn towards disaster.
This book is right at the top of my all-time favourites, and just writing about it makes me want to go and find it again. I haven’t read it for years, but I can still hear those names called out in the darkness at the end of the first chapter, the brave reassertion of identity under a monstrously repressive regime. Atwood’s writing is mesmerising, and the dystopian world that she has built, where women have no rights and have become classified according to their purpose in relation to men, is both terrifying and heartbreaking. I could contemplate many of the sentences in this book for hours. I was so disappointed when I saw the film – but I think it’s just because there’s no way to translate Atwood’s writing, you need to read this story in its purest form.