It was wonderful stepping off the hot streets of London into the warm heart of Milly’s kitchen, with Felix, Flora, Rosie and Max all around to welcome the Kensal Review, which on this occasion was AC, Hannah, Juliet, Milly and me.
Having no children of my own I always get a kick out of spending time with my friends’ kids. Rosie wasn’t around long enough for a chat as she only made a brief sleepy appearance on Dad’s shoulder, but I enjoyed happy seashell collecting discussions with Flora, and Felix charmed us all with an impromptu recital of two poems off-by-heart, which inspired a bonus performance of a German poem from Hannah – fantastisch! Children are indeed a gift.
Milly prepared a beautiful meal of clever vegetarian dishes, temptingly presented and as we discovered, each more delicious than the last. I was reminded of my regular wish to request host recipes for each of the reviews to be published along with the write up… maybe one day. For now, it was a complete delight to take our seats in Milly’s dreamy garden on a warm dusky evening, surrounded by blossom, just weeks away from midsummer’s night.
We were pleased to be reunited with Juliet, only a few days back from 3months of Balinese adventures, and as she hadn’t seen the series or read the book our discussion on Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale unfolded through getting Juliet up to speed on the plot.
Key scenes that stood out for recounting included the day all women’s bank accounts were frozen and their assets turned over to the men, and the killer ritual rape scenes of ‘The Ceremony’, when the Commander rapes the Handmaiden while she lies between his wife’s knees, her wrists restrained behind her head in the wife’s hands.
We all began describing to Juliet the “dystopian future” of Gilead. To which someone immediately countered, hang on, is it a dystopian future? It could be in our time.
Milly shared that at the date of publication in 1985 Margaret Atwood was very clear in communicating that all events described in her book had already happened in real life around the world. The book is simply putting them all in sequence in the same time and place.
Juliet brought tales of Indonesian women not allowed to ride legs astride motorbikes, only able to travel pillion, knees together.
An article I subsequently read in the Times evokes familiar modern day handmaids of India, “today many such women are resorting to handmaids of sorts: buying eggs from desperate women in poorer countries or employing surrogates. In India’s notorious “baby factory” clinics, fertile slum girls are instructed to keep healthy, not smoke or drink alcohol, as in Gilead. The baby is removed from them quickly after birth, claimed by the rich wife It is a moral quagmire; the only difference is this handmaid is paid.”
A woman I know who is fiercely, angrily defensive of her choice not to have children feels she is shunned by society because of it. She calls The Handmaid’s Tale ‘a cautionary tale’ fetishizing fertility, and Milly referred to society attributing diminishing power to older women once perceived beyond their childbearing years.
Chaps, we missed your male point of view for these hard reproductive topics and difficult philosophical gender questions. Nevertheless, it is the Kensal Review afterall and while biting into ice cold watermelon and sucking on 90% cocao chocolate, in time honoured tradition conversation meandered via familiar stops (sex - both straight and gay); who would do the chauffeur Max Minghella, and who had eyes only for Joseph Fiennes, controlling Commander or not.