Bookmarks: Dystopian fiction that hits too close to the home

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Bookmarks: Dystopian fiction that hits too close to the home

A fortnightly look at books, writers and reviews

Andrew Donaldson

The critic Anthony Cummins, writing in the Observer on Sunday, declared that Edna O’Brien’s new novel, Girl (Faber), “makes the recent craze for dystopia look frivolous”. No prizes for guessing what he’s on about: the relentless rise in the popular imagination of Gilead, the nightmare future world of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, and its sequel, The Testaments (Bloomsbury), which hit  bookstores last week.

The publicity surrounding Atwood’s novel, shortlisted for the Booker before it had been released, has been phenomenal, and the reviews extremely positive. The book’s biggest promotional boost has come from the White House; Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory sparked renewed interested and an accompanying spike in sales of such classic “future shockers” as George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and, naturally, The Handmaid’s Tale.

In Atwood’s original vision, an unnamed environmental catastrophe renders all but a few women barren and triggers a populist Christian fundamentalist surge that overthrows the US government, replacing it with a patriarchal theocracy where fertile women are ritually raped to repopulate Gilead. ..

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