Book Club Recap: The Handmaid's Tale

For the August book club, we read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and met at Kentucky Native Cafe (one of my favs!) for some wine, salad, and beet sandwiches (ok, maybe just one beet sammy). It was a lovely evening!

You may notice that there are tulips blooming in this picture. I snapped this last spring, but KY Native Cafe is a beautiful space during all seasons. Check it out if you haven't been!

You may notice that there are tulips blooming in this picture. I snapped this last spring, but KY Native Cafe is a beautiful space during all seasons. Check it out if you haven't been!

Here a little preview of the book from the back cover...

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now...

About two days before our book club met, Hulu announced that they are planning a mini-series for The Handmaid's Tale next year! How timely!

To be honest, when I read the first few pages of the book, I didn't love it. I guess I just skimmed the back cover and looked at the image on the front and ignorantly assumed it was historical fiction, which is one of my favorite genres. Turns out I was wrong. Have you ever thought you were taking a sip of water when it is actually something else? That was how this book was. It is a feminist dystopian novel with hints of science fiction.  Once I adjusted, I couldn't put it down. I rate it 4.5/5 stars.

There is so much to talk about with this book, and I wish I was still teaching high school English. This would be a great book to discuss with students and could lead to some really interesting paper topics. Our group had a really rich conversation, but we missed several ladies who had last-minute obligations come up.

If you read along and weren't able to be with us, or if you're thinking about reading this at your next book club, here are the discussion questions that got our conversations started.

  • The author, Margaret Atwood, wrote this book in the early/mid-1980s, which was during a revival of conservative politics and around the election of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Do the novel's concerns seem dated today? 
  • While not explicitly stated, the setting is presumed to be in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Why is this notable?
  • How would you handle being in Offred's situation?
  • Do you think this novel is feminist or a critique of feminism?
  • What are your thoughts on Commander? Is he a villain, and unfortunate bystander having to play along, something in between?
  • What role does Moira play? Does her significance change as the story progresses?
  • Pieixoto warns his audience against judging Gilead too harshly and points out that they were under pressure from the falling birthrate and declining degradation. Do you see parallels today?

Have you read The Handmaid's Tale? What were your thoughts?