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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Handmaid's Tale

After thoroughly enjoying the first season of the Hulu adaptation, I decided that I wanted to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale for myself to see the differences in book vs. cinematic adaptation. My thoughts are below, but long story short, it's a good one.

Offred can bear children, this much we know. It's why she's still alive, rather than having been sent to the Colonies. She once had a child, in the time before Gilead. She had a husband then, too. But she cannot even speak of those earlier times. Her only responsibility now is as a handmaid, and she must bear her mistress a child, or it's off to worse pastures she goes. She is Of-Fred, the handmaid of Fred, who rapes her once a month in hopes of her conceiving. In the world of Gilead, it a theocracy where men are king and women are only to serve in various capacities, be it as wife, handmaid, cook, or Jezebel. Once upon a time, they were human. Now...

The first thing that comes to mind when I write about my experience reading this book is how well it paired with the television adaptation. I found them to be complementary, companion pieces, and much less so a show adapting a book. They felt that they went together, both the same and different. I'm glad I finally read this book, as it was recommended to me several years ago and honestly, dystopian fiction is rarely my thing. This one, though, with the addition of the television show, felt very close to home. The theocracy, where men have taken over the lives of women in every respect, may have, at one time even in the recent past, felt far removed from the possibility of occurring, now feels disturbingly omniscient. Women as birth slaves is hard to deal with from a human rights perspective, but it has happened, and it is happening. Look at Boko Haram, as just one example. Atwood's point, I feel, is that this kind of reality is not as far removed as we would like it to be.

I really enjoyed Atwood's writing style, and the first person narrative that provided such strong characterization. I knew Offred, I understood her, and I felt her pain. She was such a strong, vivid character, and I often felt as though I was in the room with her when she told me her story. A part of this characterization is more clear after you read the ending (see AFTER the spoiler alert below if you dare), and it makes me put this book under the banner of "brilliant" more than just plain old "good." Even though I might not be listing it as one of my favorite books of all time, I can't deny that this book is just absolutely brilliant, if not also prescient and horrifying. It's what makes it so incredible. Atwood is a hell of a writer, and even with my aversion to dystopia and fantasy, I think it will be worth my while to pick up more of her work. The first season of the television series ends when the book ends -- Offred being taken off by hopefully friendly forces, but we really don't know that for sure -- so I have mixed feelings about a second season of that. But those thoughts are for another blog. Here, my friends, we do books.

***BOOK SPOILERS AHEAD***

I was really taken by the ending, in terms of finding out that this whole story was written and later discovered once Gilead fell and a new world order was established. I actually read this epilogue a few chapters into the book, and it gave me a good grounding for understanding Atwood's masterpiece. If I had come upon it when I was supposed to -- as an actual epilogue, that is -- it would have been all sixth sense-y, but I liked my way of doing it, as well. It not only provided me with a sense of relief, that at least these women were not held as birth slaves for all of eternity, but rather for the time that Gilead existed. It doesn't take away the horror, but it provided a bit of a salve. 

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