A few weeks ago a friend of mine at work was telling me I had to watch this show he was currently loving. The Handmaid’s Tale a series on Hulu. I quickly realized while watching it that it was based on a book. There are little tells that make a show a possible book. A narration during the story is usually the most obvious one. Of course, I had to read the book since I loved the series so much. I am glad that I got to read the ending before I watched the latest show before the finale of this season’s show.
My thoughts on the book.
First, I should mention that I listened to an audiobook copy of this book. Clare Danes does a spectacular job reading this. Offred starts the story by describing what she does and how she lives. She is a Handmaid and as such her only life mission is to get pregnant by her household’s commander so she can give them a baby. In the book Offred is a clean slate, she doesn’t have much depth and doesn’t explain her feelings. She is recanting the story for the reader so the timeline is jumbled and other details telling a complete story are also left out. Offred is trying to leave some sort of proof that she existed in Gilead and she was miserable. Although she doesn’t actually say anything like that.
My biggest question while reading the book, and I had quite a few of them, was how did society fall. The non-linear story kept me hoping that everything would be revealed but the author left much to the imagination. Offred remembers her freedom, her classes on how to be a Handmaid, but the author doesn’t explain how Gilead became such a nightmare. My other big question was never learning how the fertility crisis happened. Why were some people not effected? How did they know the Handmaid’s were fertile without technology?
The book left many characters without distinction. Based on description alone, I would not have been able to pick Offred from a crowd. There wasn’t enough details to set the scene and let me really see it. I felt it though. Somehow the narrative moved me to feel for this nameless heroine.
There was beautiful prose in this book. Beautifully crafted words fused together to tell the reader what it really means to have too much time to think.
“Night falls. Or has fallen. Why is it that night falls, instead of rising, like the dawn? Yet if you look east, at sunset, you can see night rising, not falling; darkness lifting into the sky, up from the horizon, like a black sun behind cloud cover. Like smoke from an unseen fire, a line of fire just below the horizon, brushfire or a burning city. Maybe night falls because it’s heavy, a thick curtain pulled up over the eyes. Wool blanket.”
“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.We lived in the gaps between the stories.”
“If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending…
But if it’s a story, even in my head, I must be telling it to someone.
You don’t tell a story only to yourself. There’s always someone else. Even when there is no one.”
On and on like that. The whole story is beautifully told without actually explaining much. I understand why so many people love this story. I know it seems as though this type of situation is actually plausible. I read this and I could really envision it, but my version probably looks different the what you imagined. The nice thing about the narrator is that she leaves room for you to imagine it without spoon feeding the scene to the reader. I listened intently to every word and even the discussion at the end and still have a lot of questions. This story is haunting and terrifying. There is not question about why it is still being talked about 25+ years later.
My thoughts on the show
Wow! I was hooked right from the start. The colors, the uniforms, the locations, the close ups of Offred. This series shows just enough to keep the viewer guessing. The show managed to come up with cleaver explanations for before and after. The show tweaked and stretched until it became more of a coherent story and less of the ramblings of a woman on the edge. The show did not cover why infertility was a thing, or explain how they knew the handmaids could do what the wives could not. Even with that, the show created memorable scenes and got me really envisioning how this could happen in my United States.
The show had some big differences between the book.
- First, Offred barely speaks in the book. Offred is very passive in the book and doesn’t do much to rebel. However, everything she says is dripping with double meanings. She has major dialogue in the show although there is a narrator.
- Offred’s real name is revealed in the show.
- Ofglen’s situation is more specifically described in the show. Ofglen doesn’t get that much attention in the book.
- The commander and his wife are much older in the book, which almost explains their infertility.
- The commander is good looking in the show. In the book he was an older man and Offred was forced to have more of an affair with him.
- We find out what happens to Moira and Luke on the show. The book leaves us wondering.
- Offred’s mother is not mentioned in the show. She plays a major role in the feminist movement in the book.
- Janine’s feet get maimed in the book instead of her loosing an eye. Also, Janine has a bigger role as she confesses what her commander promised her after she had the baby.
- There is no white supremacy element in the show. Citizens of Giliad have plenty of things to be prejudice about with religion, sexual preferences, reproductive rights, and the feminist movement.
From what I understand, there will be a second season of The Handmaid’s Tale. There is so much left to explore even though it seems like Offred’s story is told. The colonies are a thing touched on and not explored in the book. Luke and Moira in little America in Canada. The commander possibly getting what is coming to him. Then of course, we need to know where/how Offred ends up.
The way the author writes, we could almost squeeze an episode out of every sentence. I am so looking forward to season two and the continuation of Offred’s story.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Published by McClelland & Stewart on December 10th 2010
Length: 11 hours
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction, General
Audiobook provided by My Wallet (purchased)
From the bestselling author of the MaddAddam trilogy, here is the #1 New York Times bestseller and seminal work of speculative fiction from the Booker Prize-winning author.
Now a Hulu series starring Elizabeth Moss, Samira Wiley, and Joseph Fiennes. Includes a new introduction by Margaret Atwood.
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 days 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….
Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid's Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and literary tour de force.