Set in the United States after a nuclear holoocaust leaving the vast majority dead or sterile, The Handmaid's Tale is a glimpse beyond the looking glass into a world almost too terrifying to comprehend. Narrated through the eyes of Offred, a brood mare for the Commander, Atwood paints a vivid tale about the horrors of misogyny under a theocratic dictatorship.
The writing is gripping and sharp. Brutally descriptive (yet minimalistic) sentences underscore the profound inhumanity of societies that have abandoned compassion in favour of mere pragmatic, practical, ends-justify-the-means policies that have rendered half of the population to act as expendable labour for the other half. Sleep is not always readily available, and the hangman's noose is never more than a failed duty away.
Women, save those fortunate enough to be pregnant or married to those in authority, are treated as abject slaves, valued only for their instrumental values. Thusly treated as means, they are preserved rather than respected. All means for suicide such as ceiling fans and hooks have been painstakingly removed. For that matter, so are their names, with the women being referred to only with respect to their owners. Offred. Ofglen. Even a woman's name, Martha, has been appropriated for use as maids. Their station signifies their lack of fertility, which has led to a loss in her value in this futuristic living nightmare. Individuality has been all but eradicated, and gossip is now a luxury. The parallels with the world today, especially the Middle East, are too obvious to overlook, and this is probably intentional. The audiobook is impeccable, with Claire Danes' deadpan reading adding near-copious quantities of tension and foreboding to the mix.
Before being allowed to leave the "boarding house", Offred is required to don garments that shroud her from sight. Her rank is designated by her the colour of her dress, red. If her Commander was to tire of his wife and elect Offred for this honour, she would be garbed in blue. The Commander himself wears black. If that wasn't enough, she is perpetually shadowed by another human incubator, who functions as her spy. Offred, likewise, functions as her companion's spy. Things only get worse as the details of this alternate/possible future are revealed. Each new page is akin to a door inside an authentic haunted house. From the first chapter, a sense that there are no happy endings for these oppressed slaves is engraved into the reader's consciousness.
This is a must-have book, and belongs beside 1984 and Brave New World. This apotheosis of literary talent should not be overlooked.
First- full disclosure: I'm a fan of the book. I'd read it just a few years after it came out when I was probably a freshman in high school; it made an indelible impression on me and I think Margaret Atwood is a flippin' GENIUS. I think it should be required reading for every human being in North America.
My daughter, in her mid-teens, loves audiobooks. She is a great reader as well; however, she will only very occasionally take a book recommendation from her mum. I got this audiobook in the hopes that she *might* listen to it if I put it on her iPod.
Claire Danes hasn't been a favorite of mine - it isn't that I *don't* like her.....I just missed "my So-Called Life" age wise & I can't recall seeing her in anything since "Romeo & Juliet" (I haven't watched much tv since 1997). I was skeptical if Ms. Danes could do this material (that's so important to me) justice, but I hoped my daughter would enjoy it.....
One evening I couldn't sleep & I had no more credits so I decided to give it a try - AMAZING. I hadn't re-read "The Handmaid's Tale" in 20+ years and listening to it again now was not only chilling but I was dumbfounded at Atwood's prescience (just check out Ms. magazines' recent articles about the War against Women). And Claire Danes? She inhabits this narrative, gives such a strong, nuanced performance that I cannot BELIEVE she didn't win the Audie for this. Danes reading Atwood is a golden example of how audiobooks can be so much better than reading a book yourself; great writing paired with great reading is sublime.
I still don't know if my daughter has listened to it - I pray that she does. HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE
Retired police detective; oenophile; golf and exercise addict; and quilter.
Interesting possibility of things to come
The thought of being punished for your freedom to think
In the year 2075
As many others have written summaries, I will write about the quality of the novel.
First off, I loved The Handmaid's Tale. I would describe it as having an etherial quality, as the story comes together slowly in a stream of conscious manner. You're constantly moving from memory to memory, which makes the whole read very engaging and very suspenseful. But as a good portion of the experiences are described as having already passed, it also feels very lethargic, as though the narrator really has nothing better to do. Which, as you listen to the book, you realize she doesn't. It's really wonderful.
I will also note that this book makes social commentary on the role of women in society, and also how men perceive them. It also talks a bit about what we feel is normal, and how quickly that can change. But I will reiterate, this is commentary. Atwood has created a world that allows her to ask these questions, but she doesn't say explicitly what is right and what is wrong. Making this a very good thinking book, I would highly recommend this to individuals and book clubs alike!
My only critique of this book would be that the ending feels to come about a little fast, and a little haphazard. It feels as though Atwood, having used all her characters for their intended purposes, no longer knows what to do with them, and tosses them about hither and yon. That being said, I will still listen to this book again and again, wonderful narration!
This is one of my favorite books, and I've read it a few times, but wanted an audio version, so I could listen in the car. Even after repeated readings, the story is as powerful as ever. Maybe even more so at this point in time. Claire Danes does a great job narrating this story. She really brought this to life as the voice of Offred. I'll be recommending this to friends, and suspect I will be listening to it over again at some point - because I liked it that much.
This was a very chilling book. When you read it, your initial reaction is that this could never happen. Until you realize that it has happened in other countries, where women's rights have been totally stripped away. I had to keep reminding myself that this was written in the mid 1980s, which make it even more chilling. The religious right taking over this country and wanting to limit women's reproductive freedom? Nah, could never happen? Could it?!?! Just look at what is occurring around us today.
It was interesting to think about the context of this story. There was concern by the government of the dropping Caucasian birth rate, which is why they created the handmaid role in that society. Racism was at the core of this, although you don't really learn this until the end. And if you think about it, the fact that they use the Aunts, who are women, to control other women makes sense. How many times do the people who oppress others turn out to be the same group of the people that they oppress?
There were parts of the story that I found slow moving, but overall, it was a solid read. I listened to this as part of Audible's A-list collection and Clair Danes did an excellent job narrating the story.
I loved this book. It is a book that makes you realize freedom is very important and being involved in our government as a women is essential. Very interesting read!
For me this novel is up there with 1984 as being both shocking and believable. It's a quiet, contemplative narrative, as it focuses on the main character's inner world (she is not able to have much of an outer world). There is very little melodrama. It gives the reader a lot of thinking space and a lot to think about. I'm very glad I finally 'read' it.
Claire Danes reads it very well, with just the right tone and rhythm to make the prose really feel like a stream of thoughts
Beautiful writing, suspenseful in a quiet way, richly formed characters, and a disquieting, dystopian world that makes your sick crawl. Claire Danes performance is spot on.
I am not normally the type to stop a book once I start it (even an audiobook), but in this case, I had to make an exception. This story just drove me up the wall. When I realized that I had started to dread listening to it, I finally said enough.This audiobook has two overpowering problems: 1) The rhythm of the storytelling is extremely staccato. Short, disconnected sentences, in short, disconnected paragraphs, in short, disconnected chapters. Ms. Danes' flat performance probably reflects the character of the narrator rather than poor acting; however, added to the staccato rhythm, it was maddening.2) The author overuses simile, as though it were the only way to describe something. It felt like every 3 or 4th paragraph started with one (short, direct) statement followed by a daisy chain of similes, each more extreme than the last. It made me wonder if the editor sent the first draft back to the author with a note to be more descriptive, so the author put four or five similes at the end of every setting description to "beef" things up.Who knows, the concept of the story may be fantastic, but at least as an audiobook, it just did not work for me.