‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood was first published in 1986. I was 22 and in my final year at university. 31 years ago.

Imagining reading this book over thirty years ago.

Imagine reading this book as a 22 year old over thirty years ago.

It left a huge impression on me. Messed with my head.

I’d already cultivated a fascination for dystopian fiction: ‘1984’ and ‘Brave New World’ had already deeply affected me.

 

Dystopia. The opposite of utopia.

dystopian:adjective

relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.

I don’t know why the whole idea of how sick and twisted the world could become fascinates me. Perhaps I am sick and twisted at heart. There’s a horror in this view of life, that’s for sure – a pessimism that the way we are heading as a society is not leading us anywhere remotely pleasant.

It’s totalitarianism that freaks me out – being told how to think and what to say and how to behave. And the sense that love is removed: love is too messy and unpredictable and powerful to have any place in this kind of world – the world of ‘Children of Men’ and ‘Divergent’ and ‘Equals’ and ‘Book of Eli’ and ‘Hunger Games’ and ‘Minority Report’ and ‘Matrix’ and ‘The Road’ and ‘The Island’ and ‘District 9’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’ and ‘I am Legend’ …which ones have I missed?

I LOVE the Channel 4 adaptation of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: Elizabeth Moss is stunning as Offred. Some are finding it too disturbing and violent and unpleasant, but not me. It is my kind of programme. So clever. So deep. So thought-provoking. And scarily an even more possible vision of a future than it had seemed thirty years ago. We are closer to this reality now than ever before.

From the moment I started watching it, I knew I needed to read the book again. I became obsessed with the idea until I couldn’t contain it any more and headed to Waterstones. I love how in Waterstones, the person serving you engages you in conversation. We talked about the book and the series and other similar books that we’d both read. You don’t get that kind of personal service online. I hadn’t made it out of the Metro Centre before I’d opened the book up and started to read. My daughter had to shout at me to stop me walking out in front of a car.

There must have been a chandelier, once. They’ve removed anything you could tie a rope to.

Perfect. So understated. So evocative. So chilling.

Waste not, want not. I am not being wasted. Why do I want?

OK, I have to stop this. I yearn to share this whole book with you!

********

Fast forward a week and I have finished the book. Yes, it’s been a busy week, but when you have to read, you have to read. You make time. Snatched moments here and there. It’s a compulsion. You read whilst waiting for the rice to cook; you read waiting outside school for the kids; you have the book with you at every moment just in case there’s an opportunity to lose yourself in it.

I have the advantage that when I’ve read something, even if I’ve loved it, I forget the details pretty much the moment I’ve finished it and put it down. So ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ felt fresh to me. It surprised me. It didn’t go where I was expecting.

I’m not giving anything away, but read it if you haven’t already. It speaks into our society more than you could imagine. Into our lives as women, challenging the very essence of what it is to be a woman in the modern world.

I often find endings disappointing, but this one worked for me. I can see how the producers of the TV show can envisage a second series.

I loved the epilogue: you don’t often hear those words, do you? Entitled ‘Historical notes on ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’, it’s a partial transcript of a talk given at the twelfth symposium on Gileadean studies in 2195. Looking at the origin and veracity of the tale, the speaker proposes suppositions about the identity of the narrator and her Commander, concluding –

As all historians know, the past is a great darkness, and filled with echoes. Voices may reach us from it; but what they say to us is imbued with the obscurity of the matrix out of which they come; and try as we may, we cannot always decipher them precisely int he clearer light of our own day.

Whether we’re glimpsing this chilling tale as the future or as the past, many questions are left unanswered. Maybe that’s why the final line of the whole book is –

Are there any questions?

Yes, there are. I have a lot of questions: questions about our current society and the way it views women and treats women (and the way we view ourselves and allow ourselves to be treated) that I didn’t have before I read this book.

I’m so excited that this book and TV series are capturing the imagination of women of all ages in our world today. I love that actress Emma Watson has hidden 100 copies of this book across Paris for anyone to discover.

I was asleep before. That’s how we let it happen.

The trailer opens with these words: words directed at every single one of us who’s ever looked the other way or not wanted to make a fuss or couldn’t be bothered to fight the system.

It’s time for an awakening.

Let’s not be the ones to let it happen.

 

 

My living room is the one room of my house that I’m pretty content with the way it is. ┬áThere’s not much I’d change right now. I love the colour of the walls: duck egg blue. You really can’t go wrong with duck egg blue. There’s something so calming about it.

I love that there’s a real mix of the old and the new. Each item that catches my eye takes me back to where and when I bought it or who gave it to me as a gift.

As I was giving my living room some much-needed love and attention this morning ie. cleaning, I pondered over each item and decided there and then to share with you some of my vintage treasures.

A decorative plate

I have no idea what drew me to this little plate, but as soon as I set eyes on it in a charity shop in Whitley Bay, I knew that I had to have it. It was remarkably out of character for me to be attracted to an item like this, and the friend I was with just laughed at my choice. To me, it speaks of innocence and childhood. It’s a tender scene. I like to imagine the story of this fine bone china plate: I like that it has been pre-loved. And it still makes me smile.

The photo of my dad

This is my dad as a young boy, taken over 80 years ago and still in its original frame. He used to tell this story how one day, he and his parents were up in London and a photographer approached them on the train and asked if he could take some photos of this lovely young boy back at his studio. And they went! I can’t believe that of my grandparents! He was proud of this photo, I think, and rightly so. He used to tease me for having it up in my living room but I think he was secretly pleased. I hope so.

Vintage toys

These are some of my husband’s toys from when he was a little lad. Little Ted was bought by one of his aunties. He had Big Ted too back then. He wrote 4427 on the wooden train when he was about 8, because that was the number of the Flying Scotsman. The egg cup was bought by one of his mum’s friends on a trip to Denmark. The figure carried a little spoon in one hand and a little bucket of salt in the other hand.

Hummel figures

Again, these came from my husband. His grandma moved into a bungalow with a huge lounge in 1972 and he remembers about twenty of these Hummel figures on the mantelpiece. One of his tasks as a kid was dusting all these little characters. He broke one once when he was running around and got into big trouble!

Set of Heidi books

As a child, I used to read and read and read. I could have kept all sorts of favourite books from my childhood, but these Heidi books meant so much to me. They were my sisters before me, so are at least 50 years old. I was happiest when I was reading and Heidi was such a positive, kind child. I think I wanted to be her.

 

Vintage tea cup

Remember the pretty vintage weekend we had last year for Helen H’s birthday? Well, she gave a candle in a vintage tea cup to each of us as we left. It’s such pretty cup and reminds me of a wonderful weekend away with friends. I don’t really use tea cups any more. Mugs seem more practical and sturdy, I guess. But tea cups are so pretty and dainty, aren’t they? And sometimes pretty really ought to take precedence over practical.

I used to worry that my home would look like an old person’s house if I had these sorts of items on display. But by hiding them away in the loft, I was depriving myself of the memories they spark in me. I think there’s a balance to be had between the old and the new, and I like my balance. I feel at home in this space, surrounded by family and friends, even when I’m alone.