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Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s Tale became a cultural phenomenon

Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s Tale became a cultural phenomenon

Blessed be the fruits of Margaret Atwood, author of more than 50 books of fiction, poetry and essays including the Booker-winning The Blind Assassin, and the phenomenal coming-of-age tale Cat’s Eye. The Canadian author turns 80 in November. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of her debut novel, The Edible Woman, a book where Atwood was already interested in heroines whose minds are “suddenly rendered cunning by desperation”.

It is a line that came to have terrifying significance for the protagonist of her 1985 bestseller The Handmaid’s Tale. Offred and her fellow handmaids live by their wits in the totalitarian theocracy of Gilead. Although the novel was lauded for its dystopian horrors, it was inspired by real-life events and regimes down through the ages. Or, as Atwood memorably put it herself in an article in the New York Times some years back, “If I was to create an imaginary garden I wanted the toads in it to be real”.

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