In Your Dreams! An Extraordinary Gift Guide, Part 2

by Margaret Atwood
New introduction by the author.Illustrated by Anna and Elena Balbusso
Bound in cloth.
Find it on Folio Books, Goodreads
'There’s a lot that doesn’t bear thinking about. Thinking can hurt your chances, and I intend to last.’ Narrator Offred is a Handmaid serving the Republic of Gilead – formerly part of the United States. Her role is to bear children for her Commander, whose wife is unable to conceive. If Offred refuses, she will be hanged or sent to die of radiation sickness in the Colonies. Yet she can remember a different life, when she had a home, a husband, and – most agonisingly – her own child.
The Handmaid’s Tale portrays a chilling dystopia, with its military hierarchy of Angels, Guardians and Eyes, and its Birthmobiles, Econowives, Prayvaganzas and Salvagings (executions). Offred makes frequent references to the world she once knew and the freedom she took for granted – having her own bank account, wearing her hair uncovered, even something as simple as using nail varnish. Atwood skilfully dramatises the contrast between the grotesque strangeness of Gilead and ‘ordinary’ life going on elsewhere, as when Offred and a companion encounter a group of tourists from Japan. Forbidden to take pictures, the tourists ask, through an interpreter, if the women are happy. Both fascinated and repelled by the Japanese women’s ‘Westernized’ clothing, Offred replies that they are very happy. ‘I have to say something. What else can I say?’

Asked whether her book could be classed as science fiction, Atwood replied: ‘Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen.’ First published in 1986, The Handmaid’s Tale was inspired by contemporary Western fears about falling birth-rates as well as by religious fundamentalism both in the West and East. It was a critical and popular success, launching its Canadian author on the international stage. It won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, one of Canada’s most prestigious literary prizes, and the inaugural Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction as well as being shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Anna and Elena Balbusso’s stunning illustrations skilfully highlight the regimented and hierarchical nature of society in Gilead.

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