Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale – in pictures

“We turn the corner onto a main street, where there’s more traffic. Cars go by, black most of them, some grey and brown. There are other women with baskets, some in red, some in the dull green of the Marthas, some in the striped dresses, red and blue and green and cheap and skimpy, that mark the women of the poorer men. Econowives, they’re called.”

‘As we wait in our double line, the door opens and two more women come in, both in the red dresses and white wings of the Handmaids. One of them is vastly pregnant; her belly, under her loose garment, swells triumphantly. There is a shifting in the room, a murmur, an escape of breath; despite ourselves we turn our heads, blatantly, to see better; our fingers itch to touch her. She’s a magic presence to us, an object of envy and desire, we covet her. She’s a flag on a hilltop, showing us what can still be done: we too can be saved.”

“My nakedness is strange to me already. My body seems outdated. Did I really wear bathing suits, at the beach? I did, without a thought, among men, without caring that my legs, my arms, my thighs and back were on display, could be seen. Shameful, immodest.

“We play two games. Larynx, I spell. ValanceQuinceZygote. I hold the glossy counters with their smooth edges, finger the letters. The feeling is voluptuous. This is freedom, an eyeblink of it. Limp I spell. Gorge. What a luxury. The counters are like candies, made of peppermint, cool like that. Humbugs those were called. I would like to put them in my mouth. They would taste also of lime. The letter C. Crisp, slightly acidic on the tongue, delicious.”

“I said there was more than one way of living with your head in the sand and that if Moira thought she could create Utopia by shutting herself up in a women-only enclave she was sadly mistaken. Men are not just going to go away, I said. You couldn’t just ignore them.”

“We line up to get processed through the checkpoint, standing in our twos and twos, like a private girls’ school that went for a walk and stayed out too long. Years and years too long, so that everything has become overgrown, legs, bodies, dresses all together. As if enchanted. A fairy tale, I’d like to believe. Instead we are checked through, in our twos, and continue walking.”

“‘There,’ I say, and he turns around. I feel stupid; I want to see myself in a mirror. ‘Charming,’ he says. ‘Now for the face.’ All he has is lipstick, old and runny and smelling of artificial grapes, and some eyeliner and mascara. No eye shadow, no blusher. For a moment I think I won’t remember how to do any of this, and my first try with the eyeliner leaves me with a smudged black lid, as if I’d been in a fight; but I wipe it off with the vegetable-oil hand lotion and try again.”

A new Folio Society edition of Atwood’s landmark dystopian novel is accompanied by striking illustrations from Anna and Elena Balbusso. Here are a selection

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