I wanted to re-read The Handmaid's Tale for awhile, and now that I have, I believe it's even more timely, relevant - and terrifying - than it was when it was originally published 25 years ago. Other than a few off-note details mostly related to technology - when reading older books that tried to imagine a not-too-distant future, it can be interesting to note how far off the mark they were in how they thought some things would progress - the novel is strikingly current. The issues that frame it - women's rights and roles, the relationship between government and religion and the role of both in individuals' lives - are as unsettled now as they were two decades ago, and early-21st-century America feels closer to the Republic of Gilead than Reagan's America did (and that was quite close enough for me).
I remembered the storyline, and especially the mood, of the novel pretty well, but I'd forgotten a fair amount of the story itself. For a novel that proposes some rather audacious scenarios and tackles pretty big themes, The Handmaid's Tale is surprisingly plot-driven, and Atwood's sharp observations and dark humor propel the story along. This was the first Atwood novel I ever read, and while I'm not sure it's my favorite (that may be The Robber Bride), it's certainly the one I've found most affecting, and most compulsively readable.
The book I read just prior to starting my re-read was nonfiction about life in the former East Germany, and as I read The Handmaid's Tale, I was struck by similarities in the seemingly arbitrary rules of daily life and the need for guarded action, because one can't ever be sure one isn't being watched. Granted, The Handmaid's Tale was written before the fall of the Berlin Wall and takes place in a not-too-distant future in which America is the fallen country, but I found myself noting the similarities between some elements of dystopian speculative fiction - I think this novel crosses genres, but that's one of them - and a real-life police state.
25 years after publication, The Handmaid's Tale remains thought-provoking, controversial, and necessary reading. I'm glad I read it again. I'd consider reading it a third time. But I hope if and when I do, it's become LESS plausible.