As an Audible Editor I listen for a living! British classics, YA novels, speculative fiction, and anything quirky, fascinating, or heart-wrenching.
Full disclosure: The Handmaid's Tale is my favorite book. It is my number one all-time pick among books, having topped my list since I first read it five years ago. So perhaps I came to this audiobook somewhat biased, but in a sense I think my love of the work set me up to be a harsher critic of the audio production. But listening to it served as a total reminder of why it is so incredible.
Last month, when we ran a little editorial feature about the books we were grateful for, I wrote about The Handmaid's Tale. It makes me grateful for a lot of reasons: I'm grateful to live in this society, in this time period. I'm grateful that my daughter won't know the kind of oppression so wrenchingly depicted by Margaret Atwood (who is for the record a total genius). And I'm grateful for how totally humbling this book is. No other work of literature is such a complete reminder that we are all just fragments, or moments in time, and we're all destined to become - if we're so lucky - mere historical footnotes. The framed narrative Atwood uses (and I won't elaborate so as not to spoil) really drives this point home.
I was worried that no narrator could live up to my expectations given my belief in the importance of this book. But Claire Danes is just vivid. She doesn't act, and she doesn't need to. She recounts. She breathes out the tale as if she is living it. Resigned, beaten down, traveling through hell by putting one step ahead of the other. I was utterly convinced by her performance and have not been able to shut up about it since. Everyone on my team is going to listen to this before I'm through, and I hope everyone who reads this review will too!
Because this has been re-released as an *Audible A-List Collection,* a selection chosen by Clare Danes for narration, I'll begin with the narration. This is one of the rare cases where a straight reading, sans the voice characterizations and the nuances one would think an actor would use, earns top scores from me. Ms. Danes reads the story with strength and conviction, wisely chosing to let the words of an outstanding poet/author give voice to the characters in this cautionary tale. The feel of this book is dark and dispassionate, a story about a violent new world where feelings and thoughts are prohibited, yet it is at the same time visceral, strong with emotion, because of Atwood's writing skills, her ironic wit, and superb story-telling abilities -- matched perfectly with Danes' talents.
I was introduced to this book in college. 1985, a women's rights to her body (i.e. abortion) was a hot topic, feminism was getting its first *report card,* and The Handmaid's Tale was either being showered with awards and praise, or being pulled from library shelves and crossed off reading lists -- a scene straight out of Farenheit 451, another *dystopian* novel where we see that repression of any kind has a price. (Atwood didn't think her work was sci-fi and argued that this was not science fiction, but rather speculative fiction.) In '85 I thought this was chilling and very futuristic.
Dystopian? Future? Speculative? ... The world is struggling from the effects (or more accurately the consequences of) of pollution, chemicals, GMO's, and radiation; our government has been extinguished, world-wide war rages, religious conflicts a large part of the cause; disease and sterility are prevalent, conception and healthy live births atypical; many species have vanished, food is scarce and rationed along with water. The Republic of Gilead (a country established within the borders of the former USA) is a violent male dominated theocracy where women have no power, young women are owned for breeding purposes, sex is a disturbing biblical ritual, the Eyes watch constantly for heretics and dissenters (routinely put to death and openly displayed). ...*Dystopian* along the lines of Clockwork Orange,1984, (Stepford Wives?), but more like good *speculation* now in 2012, where burkas, honor killings, or young girls being married off to old coots in polygamist sects are weekly headlines.
The ending of this book is troublesome for those that want a destination, or a wrap-up, as it leaves the reader unsure--left to decide between hope and complete despair. Atwood is a master at interrogating society and having the reader then try to explain it. Definitely one you will think about. Ageless and still chilling in 2012; a wonderfully distrubing tale made even better by Danes' insightful dead-on interpretation. (Fantastic to have this as a selection--great choice Audible.)
From Austen to zombies!
This was my first Audible "A-list" title, and I was not disappointed. Claire Danes was the perfect choice for this book.
What used to be the United States is now Gilead, a monotheistic regime where women are protected from "too much choice." Like our real-world foremothers of a few hundred years ago, the women of Gilead cannot earn money, own property, or vote. They have few lifestyle options: governess, domestic, prostitute, mother. Females with "viable ovaries" are drafted as "Handmaids," surrogate mothers for sterile women of the elite class.
For Offred, the Handmaid of the title, life is a chorus of "not allowed." No reading, for women may not read. No fraternization, no conversation, no acknowledgement, no unauthorized possessions like hand lotion. Only fear and loneliness remain as Offred spends her days in a grim little room from which anything she could use to kill herself has been removed.
Through it all she's starving for human interaction, yet terrified that she'll look in the wrong direction, say a wrong word, and be transferred to the ominous Colonies with the other "UnWomen." Claire Danes reads matter-of-factly, her emotions understated as if she really is Offred, who must hide all longing and pain to stay alive.
While there are plenty of great narrators to choose from among Audible titles, it's very infrequent that the performance makes the book this much better. The story is as chilling as it was when the book was published, but Danes' reading brings out the suffering, the confusion, the "how-did-I-get-to-this-awful-place" feelings in a way that didn't come out of the printed text.
This definitely goes on the A-list. Recommended for any woman, any mother, anyone at all.
This book is a speculative fiction classic. The rise of the Gilead society seems all too plausible in today's political climate, and Offred's story is painful in its intensity.
I often find myself disappointed by the narrators of audiobooks, but not so with this one. Claire Danes does an incredible job reading, listening to her is like being inside Offred's head, and she manages to inject pathos into the story without ever distracting the listener from the true star: the words.
Readings this good of stories this potent are the reason audiobooks exist. If I could give it ten stars I would.
I haven't read the print version of this book, but Clare Danes's interpretation captivated me on so many levels. In her hands, I enjoyed this book probably more than I would have had I read it myself. I would absolutely recommend this audio book to fans of the print book.
I hesitate to say this, but I would compare it to the Hunger Games. The writing is far better in this book and it's a different style altogether, but the dark tone is the same, and the premises for both books is similar. I would say this book would suit those who might want a more literary version of The Hunger Games.
It was so interesting to listen to the story as if Clare Danes was speaking to me as Offred. I believed her so much, it was almost creepy! I'm also finding it's hard to move on to other audio books because Clare Danes was such an exceptional narrator.
I would take Offred. I want to know what happened to her.
I can't stop thinking about this book, and I've actually started listening to it for a second time. It's one of those stories that stays with you.
Busy mom who loves to read but doesn't always have the time. I enjoy YA, Romance and the occasional Best Seller.
This book was both amazing and completely horrifying to me! As a woman, mother, wife and daughter I could really relate with the main character Offred (the Handmaid). This book was a real game-changer for me. I will never look at the world again with the same eyes. This is an absolute literary masterpiece and I am so glad it was available on Audible. This is a MUST READ for everyone!
Claire Danes is magnificent as the narrator. I can't envision anyone else doing it. Just superb!
Constantly in search of the perfect listen.
There are some books that you can go back to multiple times, and continue to get something new out of with each read, or listen. The Handmaid's Tale certainly falls into this category. The impact of the story changes in contrast to the current cultural and political climate but it remains current. The fact that the world Atwood creates is far closer to “reality” makes this story that much more disturbing than the many popular and more fantastical dystopias currently targeted to the Young Adult audience.
For me, it’s been years since I first read The Handmaid’s Tale and listening to Claire Danes narrate was the perfect way to re-visit the story. She captures the almost somber mood perfectly. Clearly, she has a love of the book along with the talent to provide a killer performance. If you are looking to experience, or re-experience, a classic modern day “dystopia” as envisioned by a truly unique author, listening to this new rendition is your perfect opportunity.
I wasn't expecting to enjoy the book as much as I did. Claire Danes did a beautiful job and captured all of Offred's emotions. She brought the book to life. I felt as if I was sitting and listening to Offred in my home recollecting about her time in Gilead. While the book has left me with a haunted feeling, I can't stop thinking about it. It is a wonderful cautionary tale that everyone should read or listen to. This is going to be one of the rare books that I will probably listen to again.
That is one of the most thought provoking parts of the novel for me. When people throw the word freedom around, which is it in their mind?, freedom to or freedom from. For this to be written in the late 80's and be so scary today is amazing. I think this is a great book club book and can't wait to talk to others about it.
The narration was outstanding. Again this is a book that I am so glad to have listened to. It added so much more to the story.
This was the last of all the nominees that I listened to for best fiction for the Audies. In my mind it should be the winner!!
It's been a number of years since I last read this -- very enjoyable narration by Claire Danes. I hope she does more.
Meanwhile, I anxiously await Atwood's third installment to the After-The-Flood Trilogy.