Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Narrator: Claire Danes
Publication Year: 1998 (this audio version: 2012)
Pages: 311 (audio length: 11 hours)
Genre: Fiction, Dystopia
Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com
From the cover:
After a staged terrorist attack kills the President and most of Congress, the government is deposed and taken over by the oppressive and all controlling Republic of Gilead. Offred, now a Handmaid serving in the household of the enigmatic Commander and his bitter wife, can remember a time when she lived with her husband and daughter and had a job, before she lost even her own name. Despite the danger, Offred learns to navigate the intimate secrets of those who control her every move, risking her life in breaking the rules in hopes of ending this oppression.
I first read this book in my freshman year in university. The only other Atwood I had been exposed to at that point was Alias Grace, so I was still fairly naive and didn’t know what to expect in this book. It was part of the reading syllabus for a course called “Literature For Our Time”, and it was one of the only Canadian texts we were to read.
The Handmaid’s Tale blew my freaking socks off back then, and it did it again now.
The basic premise of the story seems a bit far-fetched … and yet it isn’t, especially as years go on and the conservative Christian right gets stronger and more militant in the United States. In particular, the so-called “war on women” of the last few years, which has seen numerous states and government officials trying (and sometimes succeeding) to pass laws that limit the control a woman has over her own body and/or tried to codify a limited set of moral beliefs into the legal system, makes the Republic of Gilead seem just a little bit closer to reality.
I’m not saying that it’s going to happen, but I do think that we really need to think of The Handmaid’s Tale as a cautionary tale of what can happen when we let things slip too far in that direction. I think that this audio version was rather timely, in that it promotes the book to readers who might otherwise not have read it. Claire Danes, in particular, does a fantastic job as the narrator: she doesn’t quite “act” it, it really does feel like a “reading”, but at the same time, she manages to reach through the pages and touch your heart strings. She really manages to help Offred’s voice leap off the pages and come to life for the listener, and I appreciated the choice.
This was a really great re-read at this point in my life, and I’m glad that the Audies-nominated version caught my eye and made me interested enough to pick it up and give it another once-over. If you haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale before, or if you’ve been thinking about a re-read, now would be a good time for you to do so – and this would be a great version to pick up.