Book Reviews

Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

I need to preface this review by saying I, most unfortunately, abandoned this book with about 70 pages to go. And that’s not a reflection of how I felt about the book, it just turns out reading for leisure and grad school don’t mix well for me. Some people have found that sweet spot of being able to live as a normal human being and make it through grad school, I – perpetually anxious and stressed idiot – have not. Whatever time I do have to potentially put towards reading is put towards sleep, or just mentally checking out for the day because, truthfully, grad school is kicking my ass and I suck at it and sometimes I just need to not think. But for the sake of not completely abandoning my blog because I can’t find the time to read, I decided to go ahead and crank out a post about everyone’s favorite bonnet-wearing women. Let’s get into it.

If you’re not familiar with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s basically set at some point in the distant future after some war where fertile women, called Handmaids, are stripped of their identities and forced to reproduce with wealthy, Bible-thumping men, called Commanders (*commence eye-roll*) and their complicit wives in hopes of replenishing the human race. It is, in all manners possible, disturbing. Yet fascinating.

It’s almost too easy to draw parallels from the events in the novel to the world we currently live in where politicians are make it increasingly difficult for women to decide for themselves if they want to bring forth new life. Choices are taken from women, forcing them to reproduce even if their circumstances don’t exactly warrant the most conducive environments to raise a child. And it’s all the because a bunch of religious dingbats have convinced themselves this is something God wants. It’s like Atwood someway, somehow time traveled to 2019 and garnered information to take back to the 80s to write the novel.

I honestly found The Handmaid’s Tale to be a beautifully written novel. A little jarring to get through initially, her use of flashback meshing into current time with little transition took some getting used to, by the point at which I abandoned the text I really enjoyed it. It keeps you on your toes as a reader.

Some of her writing felt a bit superfluous and I ended up skipping paragraphs just to finish chapters, which I never do, but I’ll attribute this more to that impending sense of “I shouldn’t be reading this, I should be studying” that has come so often to me since starting grad school. I have a feeling that should I have chosen to read this book during a time when I’m not running around like a headless chicken, the lofty writing, though still annoying, wouldn’t nearly have been as big an issue for me. Some people really like that about a novel, I personally don’t. To me it feels like fluff, and when my leisure reading time is essentially nonexistent, I can’t tolerate a lot of fluff. And, thankfully, there wasn’t too much fluff, but still enough for me to complain about it. I just hate fluff. Get to the point. No fluff. Fluff. No.

Bits of fluff aside, though, this was a great read up until I had to put it down. I don’t read a lot of what people consider to be feminist books, but I love a good dystopian novel and I can say this novel doesn’t disappoint. I think Atwood did a great job of conveying the dismalness of Gilead without explicitly saying so. And does she really need to say so? I mean, women are being forced to reproduce and aren’t even allowed to be active parts in their children’s lives. They are literally reduced to being associated with whatever man they’re assigned to (our protagonist is called “Offred” as in “of Fred” the Commander she’s assigned to) and can’t leave their “homes” without permission. Still, and I believe pretty much every review on this planet for this book says this, The Handmaid’s Tale serves as something of a cautionary tale. That enough complacency can change our world into one that eerily mirrors the one Atwood has created. And to see the events of our current state play out to suggest that we really are moving into something of a Gilead… is fascinating. Definitely worth the read.

I wish I had more insightful comments to make about The Handmaid’s Tale, but honestly, my brain is mush. If it’s not something related to vocal folds or phonological awareness or aphasia (Google it), I don’t have the mental capacity to discuss it. Right now “good” is pretty much all I’m able to articulate about the novel at this moment.

I do hope to one day be able to finish The Handmaid’s Tale whenever I get my life back. I doubt any opinions expressed here will change too much, but you never know.

This is also one of the first times I’ve consumed visual content before/while reading original print content. I usually strictly follow the rules of reading a book first, then watching the movie (in this case, tv show) but I actually really enjoyed the episodes I’ve been able to get through. The deviations from the novel annoyed me, of course (for what reason was taking a woman’s eye needed aside from making me nauseous?), but it’s still a great show based on a great book that one day I will finish. Maybe.

The last thing I’ll say I loved about Atwood’s novel is the Latin phrase she gifts us that should probably be coursing through my head, considering how constantly frazzled I am: nolite te bastardes carborundorum, which loosely translates to “don’t let the bastards grind you down”. Obviously, this can be seen as something that gives the Handmaids, Offred in particular, motivation to keep on keeping on in the hellhole in which they’ve been thrown, but it can also be the motivation any of us need to keep on keeping on in our own respective shituations.

Don’t let ’em grind you down.

7 thoughts on “Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down”

  1. I have seen so many positives for this book but the subject matter sounds too disturbing for me to read. I hope that you manage to find some you time. I can imagine how full on such a high level qualification is and how overwhelming it must be.


  2. I’ve never read the book, though seeing everyone reading the sequel recently has made want to give it a try, although I do know there was a TV series recently and it didn’t interest me, so I’m not sure how I would fair with the book.


  3. Great review. I also have read almost all of the handmaid’s tale for school, and then stopped after my coursework was finished.


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