Things to Read if You Liked The Handmaid's Tale.
So a week or so ago I chatted about the recent tv adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale and how I felt about it and that got me thinking about what an excellent book that is which then got me to thinking about other excellent dystopian books there are out there because I love me a good dystopia and so then I decided to make a list because I also love me a good list. Wow, holy run on sentence Batman.
Anyhow. Here is that list. (Also, disclaimer: this is not me in any way pretending to have any intellectual or literary-wise opinions here. I just really liked these books.)
Dystopian Novels you should read if you liked The Handmaids Tale (in no particular order).
Also this is me and I’m wordy so this is not like a list of bulletpoints. It’s more like a list of mini reviews. Sorry not sorry.
Lois Lowry – The Giver which I read in 2012 and thought was excellent. Up to this point I only knew about Lois Lowry from the Anastasia books that I loved as a kid – did you read those, the Anastasia Krupnik series? I loved those books. Anyhow. This book – first in a series (and written in 1993 where had it been all my life) - is about a boy called Jonas who initially seems to live in this world where everything is hearts and flowers and white picket fences. Which – well it’s not so much the truth (and this isn’t much of a spoiler because DYSTOPIA). Here be a community where there’s no emotion and no memory; people have traded humanity for safety which they think is The Way Forward but which I’m telling you is not. There are SO MANY rules here guys, so many of the rules all of the time. I don’t think there is a single decision that a person gets to make for themselves. It’s messed up. When he’s 12, at a ceremony where everybody finds out what their place within society will be (think Divergent, kind of) Jonas becomes The Receiver of Memories and gets to experience everything that everybody else is forced to miss out on without knowing they’re missing out on it. It’s some massive honour, supposedly, except again, not so much because obviously (obviously) experience all the joy and pain and fear and love the world has ever known and witnessing the horrors and delight that are just every day occurrences to the likes of us is a major overload to the system and the only person he’s allowed to talk to about what he sees and feels and discovers is the previous Receiver. It doesn’t take Jonas long to realise that actually things are very much not as they should be and watching him slowly come to all these realisations, whilst struggling with the fact that he is the only person that knows how it was – how it could be - is so gripping. It’s a good book; it’s powerful and honest and clever and important and I liked it.
Uglies – Scott Westerfield. Uglies is the first in a series again, and it is so good. So good. Or I remember it that way at least. It’s a few years since I read it, but I remember thinking that it was a book that all teenagers everywhere should probably read. ‘What is it about Josephine,’ I hear you ask. Well. Tally is about to turn 16 which is the best thing ever because when she’s 16 she’ll become Pretty, and once she’s Pretty her life will be perfect and all she’ll have to do for the rest of her life is be happy, which will be easy because she (and everything around her) will be gorgeous and wonderful and perfect. Won’t it? Of course it will because all Tally has ever heard is how can there be equality if not everybody is perfect; if not everybody grows up to be Pretty then the world will fall apart. Except, Tally’s friend Shay doesn’t think that’s strictly true. She joins a gang of rebels on the outside and decides she might quite like to be Ugly forever which results in Tally seeing a side to the Pretties she had never thought was possible and having to choose between friendship and what she’s spent her whole life thinking she believes in. Uglies is such an important look at how important it is to look beneath the surface, a reminder that beauty absolutely isn’t skin deep and that there’s more to life than being pretty. It’s an effective two fingered gesture at the media, that tells us we need to be thinner and/or more muscular, more tanned and more toned, more conventionally beautiful and makes a really good point about knowing your own mind. It’s so relevant this book, and I like that.
The Girl With All The Gifts - MR Carey which, if you haven’t read this already then you are doing life very very wrong and that is all I have to say on the matter. And yes, if you stop by here on the regular, I am recommending this book, always and all the time.
Flawed by Cecelia Ahern surprised me because P.S I Love You this is not. It’s Ahern’s first YA novel (I think) published last year and it’s a pretty cool take on the whole on-the-surface-utopia that’s actually ruled by sociopaths and at first I kind of thought it was going to be another ‘same old same old’ because as much as I love a good dystopia I’m not going to lie about it: they can be a little bit formulaic. Anyhow. I wound up really liking it. Yay. I was gripped people, utterly gripped. It’s set in a society where free thinking is outlawed. Break a rule – make a moral or ethical choice that is all your own - and get branded as Flawed, become an outcast. The vey premise gives me goosebumps. Also the judiciary system is a little bit X Factor and that is utterly terrifying, isn’t it? It’s not down to laws really, it’s more about what the judges think of you and if they don’t like you then they can ruin your entire life. Once you’re flawed that’s it, game over. It’s a little bit like being shunned in the Amish community x a billion. & the whole idea of it, the reasons they have for branding a person as Flawed, they are not Good Reasons. The key story is that of a girl who ‘accidentally’ helps an old Flawed man, which is obviously totally forbidden and finds herself pretty much screwed because really it’s the kind of action that should result in her becoming Flawed herself: cue REBELLION. Who doesn’t love a good dystopian rebellion. Hurrah. There’s also a pretty cute romance too, obvs. The second in the series is out now - I haven’t read it yet, but I’m gonna. In fact I might do that soon.
Oryx and Crake etc. Margaret Atwood obvs. I mean why hasn’t everybody read this already? I started with Oryx and Crake because that’s the one Atwood wrote first, and followed it with Year of the Flood and Madaddam but actually I think you could go at these in any order. They sort of flow together, not so much prequels or sequels as other angles of the same world? And they are incredible. Atwood is the Queen of this stuff I swear. You read these books and you feel like you could be reading about something that could happen right now. It doesn’t feel extreme, or unlikely or something that could maybe happen possibly A LONG TIME IN THE FUTURE. You’re reading something that could be so close you can almost taste it. Oryx was the book that got me well and truly hooked on this genre I think, the reason I pretty much pounce on anything even remotely post -apocalyptic and it’s stunning. Compelling and horrifying and depressing and utterly beautiful. Oryx and Crake starts with Snowman, seemingly alone in a devastated near future and tells his story by moving seamlessly between the present day and the past through flashbacks. And the thing about Margaret Atwood is she makes you believe and feel and relate even though everything thing feels a little…off, like the ground beneath your feet is a little uneven. You can see how this all could have happened, how Jimmy could have ended up where he is, you can appreciate the choices he makes, and Atwood terrifies you with the plausibility of the picture she paints; I am still, seventeen million rereads later (#iexaggerate) freaked out by Chickie Nobs. I just love it.
Only Ever Yours - Louise ONeill – if you really loved The Handmaid’s Tale then this might be The One for you. It’s got very very similar themes – using fucked up extremes to open our eyes at how we treat women RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW. It’s a little bit Handmaid’s, a little bit Mean Girls (and I am so due a rewatch of that film) and a lot excellent. Basically, women are no longer bred naturally, but in schools where as they grow up they are trained in being perfect women who exist only to please men. The ‘best’ at this are ‘lucky’ – they get to marry and breed sons. The rest of the girls? They become concubines or teachers and life, for them, is pretty shit. It’s kind of terrifying. At school they learn to keep fit, to lose weight, to look good and that they will always be answerable to men. Their curriculum is “The Guide to the Rules for Proper Female Behaviour”. They spend pretty much all their time on social media talking and bitching other an equivalent Facebook, Instagram, YouTube. They can’t even read and all they know about maths is how many calories is too many calories. It’s so messed up this book, so very messed up. The girls don’t even have CAPITAL LETTER NAMES. This book will get under your skin, it will get under your skin and it will stay there, I promise, because even though it’s the most extreme, even though you want to sit there and think ‘it could never’ you kind of know deep down that actually possibly it probably could…
Never Let Me Go – Ishiguro oh hello book that broke my heart and owns my soul. This is a book that you need to know as little about as possible before you go in, so all I’ll say is read it please.
The Fire Sermon – Francesca Haig This whole trilogy is EXCELLENT. I loved it. So the human race nearly died out, devastated by some mega apocalyptic event and thousands of years After, civilisation is still suffering the consequences. Since The Blast there have been no single births, only twins. One twin is perfect, the other is flawed and one twin cannot live without the other – kill one and the other dies too. The Omega – the flawed twin – is branded and from that moment has no rights. The world is ruled by Alphas. I LOVED it, I loved the first book, I really really liked the second and third. I have SUCH a thing for the main character Cass because she’s so interesting. The story has pace, the worldbuilding is top notch. It’s just a really really good series. & all three books are published now so you don’t have to wait a year between books like I did. Bookish problems.
The Hunger Games which you’ve read already right, because who hasn’t. & sometimes when something enjoys the success this franchise has, it stops being cool to like it and I think that’s really sad. This series was such a hit for a reason. I stand by my love for these books.
Fahrenheit 451. Everybody knows this story, right? Or the bare bones of it anyway. Banned books, the burning of books which are evil purely because they make you question things and having your own mind is outlawed. When you say dystopia, you think F451. Or I do anyway even though its not my favourite *hides*.
I think that if you think about the fact that this book was written in the 1950’s…well, I dunno, it says something I think. It’s a really interesting story, and Montag is a really interesting protagonist and I always loved the title. The whole story, the whole thing surrounding the banning of books to the point that the purpose of firemen now is to burn them, to burn the homes of people that are found to own them – I mean look at how many books are banned right now, it’s so messed up – is a concept that both saddens and fascinates me as does the loss of free will and free thought, the fact that pretty much every person in this book buys into every shred of propaganda ‘bad things happen to other people and yeah there might be Some Bad Stuff but it’ll be dealt with soon and you’ll be fiiiiine’ (remind you of anything much?) is kind of scary. The whole relationship between Montag and his wife is such a good example of that – Montag is starting to ask questions, to speak to people who are kind of at odds with the status quo and his wife is so utterly bound by what she has been told is right and wrong. I feel like it’s kind of a rite of passage this book, you kind of have to read it – I haven’t for about 15 years. Perhaps I ought to go and dig it out….
TALK WITH ME. Have you read any of these? Did you like them? What dystopian novels would you recommend to me? Let's have all the bookish chats.