It was the literary event of the year: last Tuesday, Margaret Atwood’s second part of «The Handmaid’s Tale» was presented at the London bookstore Waterstones. Many have been waiting for three decades to see what would happen to the characters of Gilead’s fictional totalitarian state. The 79-year-old Canadian author showed up in London to read for the first time excerpts from her new novel.
When «The Maid’s Tale» was published in 1985, there were some who were not excited about Atwood’s grim vision of the future of women. Some critics felt that the text was too exaggerated. Others, according to Atwood, just asked, «How much time do we have left?»
As part of the current debates on women’s rights in the United States and elsewhere, Atwood believes that even today societies can fall into totalitarianism like Gilead’s: «If you look at certain bills , some US states are almost ready,» Atwood said at a press conference at the British Library, the UK’s national library. «If governments were fair and equitable, only potentially pregnant women could decide on these issues.»
Reality or fiction?
In view of the current debate in the United States on women’s self-determination in reproductive issues, the continuation of Atwood’s novel comes at the right time. In the book’s presentation he said that today’s world looks more like Gilead than 34 years ago, when «The Handmaid’s Tale» came out: «In time we have moved to Gilead instead of moving away from it,» she said.
Despite the seemingly fine dividing line between reality and fiction, there are some significant differences between «The Handmaid’s Tale» and «The Wills.» The new novel is set 15 years after the end of the first narrative and is told from the perspective of three women who observe and interpret the events of Gilead’s brutal world in different ways. I wanted to «investigate how different women react to oppression,» Atwood said.
The Handmaid’s Tale
When Margaret Atwood wrote «The Handmaid’s Tale,» she lived in West Berlin, an enclave surrounded by the Socialist GDR and the Wall. Faced with the divided city, he wondered what a totalitarian state would look like in North America, he says. This is how gilead’s idea of violent patriarchy came about. Atwood based his account on real and historical cases of women’s oppression. «For everything in that novel there is a real basis. I didn’t want to add anything that hadn’t already happened in some way,» Atwood once told People magazine.
A modern dystopia
After so many years of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new wall is discussed along the border between the United State and Mexico, just at the time of the publication of «The Wills». Isolation, tariff politics and populism are spreading in the West. The moment of hope after the end of the Cold War now seems like a footnote. Is the world of «The Handmaid’s Tale» and «The Wills» a dystopia? «Let’s hope so,» Atwood replies in London, but, going forward, she sounds disappointed.
This new nuance can also be felt in your book. While in «The Handmaid’s Tale» one could perceive the hope of the end of theocracy and totalitarianism, «The Wills» focuses on the experience of the different people and the behavior they have to develop to survive in that kind of Slavery.