Audiobook Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Narrator: Claire Danes
First published in print in 1985
Audiobook Release Date: July 20, 2012
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Margaret Atwood’s popular dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale explores a broad range of issues relating to power, gender and religious politics. Multiple Golden Globe award-winner Claire Danes (Romeo and Juliet, The Hours) gives a stirring performance of this classic in speculative fiction, one of the most powerful and widely read novels of our time.

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’m assuming since there is now a very popular TV series based on The Handmaid’s Tale that most people have at least heard of it and have a general idea of what it’s about. I haven’t had a chance to watch the show yet but it’s next on my list now that I am caught up on House of Cards.

The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in a future where fertile women are forced to become handmaids whose sole purpose is to bear children for the upper class families because for some mysterious reason the upper class women are infertile. This book is told from the point of view of Offred, one of the handmaids. Offred means literally, “of Fred” because handmaids are property of the head of the household they serve and have no reason to use their birth names. If Offred moves from Fred’s house to another household, she will take the name of that new master.

Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors but the last time I read The Handmaid’s Tale was several years ago so I wanted to refresh my memory before watching the TV show. This time I listened to the audiobook. Claire Danes reads it and does a fantastic job. She makes Atwood’s lyrical prose come alive.

Atwood’s ability to imagine and predict the future is amazing. The method that the government uses to take over the country and institute the horrible religious hierarchy that exists in the book would not have been possible in the 1980s when this book was written but is entirely possible today. How could she have known? It’s eerie.

Like I said, Atwood’s prose is beautiful and poetic. It’s so detailed that I felt like I was inside Offred’s head. I could feel her pain and desperation. It’s been said that we are headed more and more towards a world like the one in The Handmaid’s Tale. While I think we have a way to go before we get there (not that I want us to!), the subjugation of women and the regulation of their bodies by men resonates. However, just because this book is primarily about women, it’s not just for women. The Handmaid’s Tale is a marvelous work of speculative fiction (if you call it science fiction, Margaret Atwood will be annoyed with you) and a cautionary tale that everyone should read.

All of the other books I’ve read by Margaret Atwood were pre-blog and I don’t have reviews for them. Except for The Heart Goes Last, which is another dystopian novel that I highly recommend.