Please note that this post contains affiliate links. I was provided with complementary clips of the new Handmaid’s Tale audiobook and a copy of the Folio Society edition in the hopes I would write about them.
I first read The Handmaid’s Tale two summers ago. I was in the Boston area at the time, near where the story is set. I was never exposed to Margaret Atwood’s work in school. In fact, I had never even heard of her until I started writing for Book Riot, a.k.a. Atwood Fan Central. After seeing The Handmaid’s Tale lauded by so many of my fellow contributors, I decided to buy a copy at the local indie bookstore in the hopes that it would pull me out of an epic reading slump. It definitely succeeded.
The Handmaid’s Tale is one of those books that pulls you in by the sheer horror of it. You want to stop reading but are lulled into a trance by the incessantly quiet drumbeat of Offred’s emotionally numb routine. The detached tone of the first person narrative makes palpable the extent to which her personhood has been shattered by violence, fear, and objectification.
The Handmaid’s Tale is, first and foremost, a feminist response to the anti-woman ideology of the Reagan era. From his one-eighty on the Equal Rights Amendment to his regressive birth control policies, American women lost a lot of ground under Reagan’s administration. Atwood imagined what could happen if Reaganesque policies went unchecked in a world already destabilized by terrorism, environmental degradation, and a plummeting birth rate.'The Handmaid's Tale' for a New GenerationClick To Tweet
Reagan may be gone but misogyny is not. Now we have Trump, who makes Reagan look like a gentle lamb in comparison. Reagan’s policies may have been bad but at least he didn’t brag about sexually assaulting women on camera. And of course, now we’re living in the age of the so-called Men’s Rights Movement. If the true believers (i.e. religious fundamentalists) are the commanders of Gilead then one can easily imagine the MRM frat bros lining up to serve as the muscle of the regressolution (my word). The Handmaid’s Tale seems more timely now than it did when it was first published.
When the idea of the Hulu adaptation was first conceived, Donald Trump had not yet been elected president. In fact, the election didn’t happen until partway through filming. And now, with the disaster that is Trump’s first one hundred days in office and the show debuting to a disenfranchised female population (and their supportive male counterparts), The Handmaid’s Tale has been given a new lease on life.
In addition to the Hulu show, three major new editions of the book have been released during the last few weeks. Each incarnation of the story has something unique to offer, so I want to talk about each one in turn.
When I heard that Margaret Atwood had written an extended ending to The Handmaid’s Tale, I was terribly excited. The original ending–“Are there any questions?”–is both frustrating and perfect but I like the idea that we can now hear what some of those questions–and answers–might be. This Q&A session alone makes the audiobook worth the purchase price.
The Folio Society’s unique contribution to Handmaidology is its evocative illustrations, courtesy of the Balbusso twins. Their style is perfectly suited to a story like this. Crisp lines belie the dreamlike quality lent by the odd geometric shapes and impersonal faces. The style of the illustrations doesn’t quite match the text. Instead, it adds another dimension to it–another angle from which to peer into this strange new world.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt just released a new hardcover edition and honestly there is nothing special about this except THAT COVER IS SO PRETTY I COULD EAT IT. That is all.
I watched the first three episodes of the new Hulu show last week and it broke me. The Handmaid’s Tale is a difficult book to stomach but there’s something about seeing those images playing out on the screen that horrify in a way only film can. In particular, the images that stuck with me were (you may want to skip this part if you haven’t seen it yet):
- Margaret Atwood’s shockingly violent cameo.
- Offred’s body rocking forward and backward during the ceremony. (Ew.)
- The bodies at the wall juxtaposed with the peaceful beauty of the river.
- Offred’s face when she’s attacking the rapist with the group of handmaids.
- The handmaids, wives, and aunts crowding around Janine’s birthing chair shouting “Push! Hold! Push!”
- The Martha being pulled from the back of the van and strung up to hang.
- Ofglen waking up to discover the bandage covering her mutilated genitals. (This wins the prize for the most disturbing thing in the whole show. I felt physically nauseous.)
I noticed that the director used a lot of aerial shots to capture the disturbing symmetry and uniform movements of the characters in various scenes. The effect is striking.
One of the reasons I am so excited about this show is that it’s been hinted it will continue the story where the book leaves off, possibly giving us a concrete end to Offred’s story. The show is a faithful adaptation of the book, though there are some notable differences, but I want to see how Gilead falls, what happens to its leaders, if Offred escapes, and what happens to her family. I hope the show eventually answers these questions.
Have you listened to the new audiobook version of The Handmaid’s Tale? Have you seen the show? What do you think?