Published by Anchor Books on March 16th 1998
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now...
So I’m sure by now everyone is at least aware of the Hulu series, The Handmaid’s Tale based upon the 1985 book by Margaret Atwood. I want to speak to the television series, as well as the novel, so I’ll put those thoughts at the end.
The fact that Atwood wrote this in 1985 just floors me. I know that dystopian literature has been documented in at least the 1950s but it always shocks me to realize that fact. I feel like the recent surge in dystopian, especially the YA front, has made it seem like the millennials invented the concept. The general concept in The Handmaid’s Tale is that society has become almost entirely sterile/infertile. Due the the chemicals used and released into the environment that have built up over time, no more babies are born. We some are, but they don’t live long and most have genetic mutations. There is a small group of women who were found to still be fertile despite this, and they were declared the Handmaids. The entire structure of the society was changed in the United States, and women’s rights were taken away and all women were placed into class systems. Martha’s, who managed household duties; unWomen, who were homosexual or unable to reproduce & were sent to “The Colonies” or assume the duties of prostitutes; wives & econowives, which are basically high end and low end wives; and Handmaids, like our narrator Offred(Of-Fred, meaning she belonged to Fred, not her actual name, which we never learn), who are passed from different prominent families and are impregnated by the male head of household with the wife present in a creepy little “ceremony”.
In this book, Offred tells her story. Which is so incredibly interesting and confusing at the same time. Her mind and tale are fractured, with current events and past intermingling. I can see the point of it, to make the reader feel what she felt, the unease and confusion that must have consumed her. HOWEVER… Atwood did that thing that some authors do where they ignore basic grammatical rules for the sake of “the craft”. So many speaking parts without quotations made me confused and frustrated. I couldn’t tell who was saying what half the time and found myself having to re-read large chunks of scenes. It drove me nuts. And caused me to doc a few stars in what would have otherwise been a high rated review.
Now to speak on the television series. I LOVE IT. I really really do. I started watching it prior to reading the book, which is like a cardinal sin, I know. But Rory! I love everything about the television show and the casting is perfection in my opinion. To be perfectly honest, I think this story works so much better as a tv series instead of a book. Say what you will, but there are a few, albeit rare, cases of book wasn’t better. And this is one of them. I feel like the story translates much better when the reader/watcher can determine if we are witnessing an actual conversation vs a memory revisited/imagined. In the book Offred aka June is a super unreliable narrator, to the point where you read an entire passage and she’s all, nah I made that up, here’s what really happened. Also, I feel like the series delves deeper into the formation of this new government and societal changes as well as more in-depth characters. The tv series gets 5 stars from me. Are you guys watching? What are your thoughts?