The summer is really passing by quickly. It’s hard to believe that August will begin tomorrow, and we will be entering what I think of as “the dog days of summer”, those hot, sultry days with unpredictable weather and much lying around doing little. I’m doing that right now, as I slept in late and am enjoying a hot cup of regular orange pekoe tea and the last of the yummy Cape Breton Oatcakes we purchased on our trip to New Brunswick, a beautiful province which, as I understand from the residents there, is often overlooked as a destination - it was referred to as “the drive-thru province” and “the picture province” by more than a couple of people we spoke to who lived in major cities there.
While I was away, I managed to read just one book, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I have been meaning to reread this fantastic book for some time, since I’ve been watching the new miniseries and also since one of the members of my Friends’ book club has suggested we read it. In case you are unfamiliar with the premise of this novel, which was first published in 1985, I’ll give you a brief summary. Set in the near future somewhere in New England, this dystopian novel tells the story of the totalitarian Republic of Gilead, governed by a fanatical Christian sect which, faced with a fertility crisis, has commandeered all fertile women to serve as handmaids to the elite of their ranks. The role of these women is to provide children for these infertile, often aging, couples (Atwood refers to them as “walking wombs”). It is narrated by Offred, a woman whose own child has been taken from her as she and her husband Luke tried to flee the state into Canada some time earlier, although how long ago is never really specified. Her narration is alternately reflective and direct, relating her present experiences interspersed with her recollections of the past, including her time as a university student, her friendship with Moira, and her relationship with Luke. She relates her experiences as the government revoked the rights of women both subtly and suddenly, effectively removing the abilities of women to lead independent lives. She is shocked and appalled by her new reality, but she also realizes that she must appear to go along with it in order to stay alive and possibly escape to find her child and/or Luke, in case either one of them is still alive. She discovers that there may be an underground Resistance movement, but, unsure of who to trust, she is reluctant to participate, mainly due to fear of discovery and certain death. The narrative depicts Offred’s struggles to hang on to her past while also being lulled into submission by the mind-numbingly routine schedule of her new existence. Told with sardonic wit and poetic prose, this novel was even better this time than I remembered. Atwood’s use of language to perfectly capture Offred’s struggles within herself, as well as to describe the environment in which she is forced to participate, is at once jarring and exceptional. In an article I read recently, she said that nothing in the novel is made up, that all of the conditions of Gilead exist or existed in some societies at some time, reflecting “real life” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/10/books/review/margaret-atwood-handmaids-tale-age-of-trump.htm). This novel is, of course, particularly timely now, in the Trump era, which explains the resurgence of interest in the book. If you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend that you get your name on the holds list at your local library. Or better yet, go out to your local bookstore and pick up a copy for yourself - I guarantee it will be a book you are going to want to read again and again, and one you will want to share.
Speaking of buying great Canadian literature, while I was away, I went into a bookstore in Fredericton and discovered that Robert Rotenberg’s latest book, Heart of the City, has been released early, so while I was on my way to the library on Saturday to pick up my holds, I stopped at my own local bookstore and purchased a copy. Unfortunately I will have to wait to read it, as my volunteer book club is meeting on Friday so this week I have to focus on reading The Rosie Project.
That’s all for today. Happy last-day-of-July!!
Bye for now…