First published in England in 1971, a rambling novel of lower-middle-class manners that lacks the distinctive qualities of the mature Trevor (After Rain, 1996, etc.). Despite the tell-tale mordant wit, the narrative slogs through an abundance of observed detail, and casts its panoramic eye so widely that it often loses focus. At the center of this shaggy story is the strange Jamaican woman Miss Gomez, orphaned when she alone survived a fire as a little girl. She eventually ran away from her orphanage, and stayed in Kingston until she got enough money to go to London. Now grown, the long-legged beauty works there as a cleaner until the promise of more money finds her stripping, then hooking. Her unhappy life changes when she discovers a pamphlet from a group back home: The Church of the Brethren of the Way. Unlike the forbidding religion of her youth, The Way promises nothing but forgiveness. Miss Gomez turns from her sinful life and follows a premonition to Crow Street, a desolate area of London that's being torn down for development. Her divinely inspired mission involves the prevention of a sex crime she's convinced will soon happen. With only two buildings inhabited in the neighborhood, there aren't many candidates for her violent scenario, but they do add up to some comic British types. The Thistle Arms houses the Tuke family—a boozy, mean mother, her dog-obsessed husband, and their sweet and pretty daughter, for whom Miss Gomez foresees a sad end. But Alban Roche, her putative abuser, in fact harbors the best of intentions, not revealed until Miss Gomez's hysterical rants have sent some bumbling bobbies and Fleet Street sleazoids into action. Back in Jamaica, Miss Gomez learns the true nature of the religious faith that has inspired her mania, but still never loses her hard-won belief in the power of prayer and Divine Intervention. Early work, strictly for fans, who are (justifiably) legion.

Pub Date: May 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-14-025264-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1997

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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