(4.5 stars)It's been quite a while since I read this novel, and whilst I enjoyed it it shook me up so much that I struggled to write a proper review on it, and even almost a month later I still find it difficult to quite sum-up my experience of reading this.Margaret Atwood's world of Gilead is utterly terrifying in the way that George Orwell's 1984 is, in that it seems like such a world could be created. The novel was written in 1985, but with the rise of political movements such as the Tea Party, having an extreme Christian group running the country does not seem quite as utterly bizarre as one could hope. Atwood also managed to balance information about the new world with an actual plot really well; as opposed to sacrificing one for the other.The novel moves backwards and forwards in time; with Offred reflecting on her life before the new government with her husband and daughter, then on her time in a type of weird high school where the 'handmaiden's' were taught how to live their new life and finally in the present in her new 'job' of sorts. This basically entails becoming pregnant for the infertile couple of the Commander and his Wife, Serena Joy; or facing banishment for being an 'unwoman'. This whole notion is clearly lifted from the biblical story of Sarah/Abraham/Hagar; in which an infertile Sarah instructs Abraham to sleep with Hagar in order for them to have children. Whilst the story already is pretty barbaric, Atwood's interpretation is pretty chilling; the rather vivid description of how exactly attempted conception takes place is horrifying, but also an incredibly clever idea-which is nearly repeated in her exploration of birth ceremonies in this 'new' country.Another interesting aspect of the novel is its nods towards the feminist movement. By the 1980s certain facets had become incredibly radical and were advocating things like female separatism and lesbianism (not that being a lesbian is radical, but to use it as a political statement is). The novel features plenty of twists on the idea of a 'woman's only society'. In this world women are generally not treated as sexual objects, and biologically speaking are highly prized. Yet it is hardly a world that feminists would be happy about. On the flip side, Atwood very much does not condone the use of the female body as a commodity and so takes a more moderate (and understandable) stance-in that separatism and the assumption that men are somehow 'lesser' is wrong, but so is the fascination that circles through society with the female body.Offred herself is an interesting narrator. One cannot help but feel sympathy for a woman placed in a hellish situation largely against her will (although she states she had one-I can hardly imagine that being placed out to die in radiation could be much of a choice). There are times when she slightly frustrated me, but in general she was a really interesting narrative voice.I did really enjoy this book-to the point that her lack of speech marks didn't actually annoy me. It's certainly one of the best dystopian novels.