I have finished The Handmaid's Tale and it is not just the new tablets causing the confusion (though I do feel a bit as if someone is hammering me over the head). The book is shocking in the most pervasive way. Atwood gets under the skin of the psyche and makes it crawl. What is so compelling is the way she illustrates how the compulsion to control leads people to dehumanise and oppress others. In other words she is a fantastic story teller, though her methodology is unique. I believe the book is a set text for A-Levels and that in itself gives me hope for the future.
The reader is led to believe that it is set in an indeterminate time in the future, but I can see that the roots of such a constricted society are with us even now. Sorry if I sound like a poor attempt at an examination answer. Just go read it!