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Throughout her career, Margaret Atwood has played with different literary genres in her novels--historical fiction (Alias Grace), pulp fiction (The Blind Assassin), the comedy of manners (The Robber Bride)--but no foray into genre fiction has been as successful as her turn to speculative fiction in The Handmaid's Tale. Published in 1985, it echoes Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World, but a vibrant feminism drives Atwood's portrait of a futuristic dystopia. In the Republic of Gilead, we see a world devastated by toxic chemicals and nuclear fallout and dominated by a repressive Christian fundamentalism. The birthrate has plunged, and most women can no longer bear children. Offred is one of Gilead's Handmaids, who as official breeders are among the chosen few who can still become pregnant.
The Handmaid's Tale is an imaginatively audacious novel that is at once a page-turning psychological thriller, a moving love story, and a chilling warning about what might be waiting for us around the corner. What ultimately makes it stand out is Atwood's ability to balance a passionate political statement with finely wrought literary fiction. The Handmaid's Tale is a remarkable work by one of Canada's most inventive writers. --Jeffrey Canton
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