This book was on a list of books so depressing that people abandoned it halfway. Being a sucker for dark, deep and depressing, I immediately picked it up. It wasn’t so gripping or unputdownable, so I was comfortable reading just a few chapters every day an wasn’t in a hurry to finish it. But somehow, the book didn’t hit me at all. Or so I thought. Because much to my surprise, almost every night during the ten days it took me to finish the book I had disturbing dreams: dreams of being trapped in abandoned buildings or of being suffocated or trying to cross over barbed wire fences. Books don’t usually do that to me. They affect my thoughts when I’m awake, not in my dreams. I’m awake right now, and this book is not doing anything to me.
Yes, there is a society, not too far away, where women are all dressed in blue and wear something more stifling than white wings on their faces. There is a society, currently emerging at alarming speed, where women are allegedly being turned into beings of mere procreation without pleasure. But by no stretch of imagination can I picture such a society ever being possible in the US. Not now, not in the past, not in the next million years. I couldn’t relate, couldn’t relate to the horror that this was supposed to be. Most of it seemed more amusing or satirical rather than horrifying. And the futuristic set up, as imagined 30 years ago,that has technology prefixed with the word Compu is just plain hilarious.
Gilead is a Christian theocracy. What denomination, it doesn’t say. Baptists are supposed to be enemies, Catholic priests are hanged at the Wall and people quote rules from the Bible. The Old Testament does have a lot of convenient rules. So this society too has rules, actually laws, which allot babymaking women to husbands of infertile wives because pollution, immorality and birth control have rendered most of the women sterile. And when the husband himself is the problem, the task is quietly reoutsourced. (Very Pandu-like. Or actually more like this ). Women are colour coded and slotted into roles. The Handmaids wear red and their only job is to make babies. The older women take on the role of Aunts or Marthas, chaperons or servants; they wear grey and green. The Wives wear blue and their role in society is pretty much to do nothing but wait for a Handmaid to give them a baby. And there are Econowives who are everything, multcoloured. Unwomen who fall under ‘none of the above’ are sent to the Colonies where they clean up toxic waste and waste away. The fertile Handmaids are given three chances to fill the barren houses they occupy with babies; healthy babies, babies that are conceived in Ceremonies and born in Ceremonies. Babies, not Unbabies. Unbabies go to the Shredder (The only thing in this book that continues to disturb me when I’m awake). Handmaids take on the names of the men they are passed on to: Offred, Ofwarren, Ofglen. Of <man’s name>. (How different is this from suffixing the man’s name to hers? Anyway) And the men of course, are just Men. The Commanders. Men who lust after Jezebels who wear salvaged lingerie from the past or just sad little men who just want to have have normal lives and play Scrabble. The sole purpose of human existence is to repopulate the country and impose Biblical rule, complete with loopholes that allow Jezebels. And life goes on. Goes on until.
As I said, Crazy.