The Handmaid's Tale, By Margaret Atwood

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The Independent Culture

Margaret Atwood's feminist dystopia has now reached the status of a classic, and may well prove to be the book she is remembered for. It's hard to believe it is 25 years since it was first published, but its freshness, its anger and its disciplined, taut prose have only grown more admirable in the intervening years.

Atwood's heroine's role in life is contained in her new name: Offred, literally "Of Fred". She belongs to the Commander, an officer in a theocratic new regime, the Republic of Gilead, in which women are required to breed. The wives of officers who cannot have children must find surrogates to fulfil that role. Offred is one of these surrogates, and is regularly held down and raped by the Commander and his wife, until she conceives.

But humanity always intervenes: the Commander begins falling in love with Offred once she is carrying his child. Offred, knowing that the baby will be taken from her once it is born, plans escape with the help of a rebel, Nick.

Atwood's novel was an ingenious enterprise that showed, without hysteria, the real dangers to women of closing their eyes to patriarchal oppression.