Audie Award, Fiction, 2013
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.
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©1985 Margaret Atwood (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
“Claire Danes sparkles in this performance…Danes’s Offred is complex, and her flashes of intense strength highlight her vulnerability. This is a consuming listen, thanks to Danes’s emotional subtleties.” (AudioFile)
former nuclear scientist
This book has an interesting premise: in an alternate history where sometime in the late 80s a series of environmental and nuclear disasters renders white people in the USA almost infertile, society devolves into patriarchal religious fascism where state-sanctioned - even mandated - sexual slavery goes on. Women known to be fertile are coerced into becoming handmaidens for the childless powerful. A rigid society with restrictions on everyone is imposed; life is simultaneously revered and discarded when personality is inconvenient.
We learn bits and pieces of this story through the stream-of-consciousness narrative of a nameless handmaiden, whose slave name is "of Fred," indicating that she is trying to conceive a child for Fred. It could have been a powerful reflection on the power of mass hysteria to remake history, if it weren't so excruciatingly maudlin. It sounds like a high school sophomore's diary, like a fourteen year old girl fat with amorphous resentment, an unconscious undermining of greater tragedy. Did you like that sentence? Because then you might like this book. Atwood doesn't limit herself to one simile when she could use three or four, and loves nonsensical metaphors such as "geometric roundness of the words." These could have been delightful if sprinkled judiciously throughout the book, but instead this type of sentence makes up 80% of the narrative portion, which in turn makes up 80% of the novel.
I am biased against stream-of-consciousness writing, as it can be hard to follow without actually slipping into the delights of magical realism. Here it was at times very difficult to understand. It's possible that in the book, reminisces are italicized, but Claire Danes, as talented and decorated an actress as she is, cannot italicize her voice. She brings an urgency to every sentence that conflicts with the self-described lassitude of the character, and she often infuses a laugh into her voice that turns bitterness into sardonicism and tragedy into irony. I felt like the narrator was untouched by the story, instead of recounting something that has happened to her. Plus, I've watched too much Homeland recently and I kept picturing Carrie Mathison in every scene. I found it distracting, hence the relatively low rating for the performance.
The end, which recounts faux future historians examining the narrative and trying to explain away some of the many flaws in the story, attempts to drive home America's fall from grace and gives some British characters the chance to ridicule the treatment of women during "The Gilead Period." It lets them pretend that they never treated women similarly, much as they pretend that slavery was only an American institution. I did find this summing up somewhat interesting, since it gave the author an excuse to probe the various aspects of such a society, but it mostly served to make the story feel outdated. I wasn't surprised to hear at the end that the copyright was 1986.
A book can get you out of your house, your town, even out of the country. I'm an avid reader believing reviews help find the good ones.
A friend of mine recommended this book because she knew I liked unique reads.
This book is unlike any book I have ever come across. Much of it was written in short sentences and didn’t have a flow to it that was easy to follow. It took me awhile to surrender to this but once I did I found it quite engaging. Claire Danes was monotone in her narration, however it fit the story.
This book is a dystopian fable with a frightening view of the future. Women are treated as nameless “its”. They have no freedoms or rights and are valued by their ability to birth healthy normal babies. If you’re into dystopian you will probably enjoy this if your not I think you may like it but not love it! Women-libbers are going HATE it!
audio addict! Mostly interested in history and some historical fiction. Will Durant is my all time favorite. Loving the Great Courses too.
This book fills me with despair. However, it is important and is a must-read.
Claire Danes' performance is absolutely amazing. I was wary of famous actors as narrators. Once I started listening, I realized Danes is a natural. She adds a special something to this story, making this audiobook as classic and essential as the book itself!
More Claire Danes!!!
SciFi/Fantasy and Classics to History, Adventure and Memoirs to Social Commentary—I love and listen to it all!
I read The Handmaid's Tale quite some time ago but read such amazing reviews of Clare Danes I was drawn into getting the audible version. What a breathtaking experience.
In the first place, Margaret Atwood's world building abilities here really shine. Everything is covered in the country of Gilead, the lead up to the overthrow of the world as we know it, the new political structure, religion, tension outlets (via partaking in executions) for the Handmaids, daily life and the lack of reading opportunities for women as they shop (all in pictures: mustn't have literate women!), and a shady underworld that shows that, for the powerful, things are just as seedy as they've ever been. So much thought has been put into every scene, every image, it's almost impossible not to be drawn in by it all, totally blown away by the world we get to walk through. I really, really appreciate being completely pulled into stories, and it's very rare. Hell, it's five-star rare!
I've never been a huge fan of Clare Danes, didn't dislike her mind you, simply have never thought much of her one way or another. But her delivery of the story is heartbreaking, moving, confusing: she completely inhabits the skin, the very soul and spirit of Offred (and it was genius on Atwood's part that we never know her name, though it's alluded to). As one other reviewer pointed out, she is the character, she is the story, down to the inhalation of a puff of a cigarette. How can you not find that to be a sheer delight? How can you not be that person yourself?
Treat yourself to this book. I'm not an Everything-Atwood kind of person, but this book is written so fluidly, with such beautiful metaphors, and such powerful word choices, it's hard not to shout it from the rooftops. With Danes at the helm, guiding is through, it's a five-star home run, well worth the credit, well worth the time. Brava to both women!
This book is sadistic at best. A society has been created that has evolved into religious extremism. A gross interpretation of the biblical passage concerning Hagar's role to provide an heir for Abraham (along with a perverse literal description of the act itself) was what caused me to stop listening. It's no wonder that the heroin of the story wanted to escape. I hope she succeeded but frankly I did not want to take the journey to find out.
Sorry, but this book was too weird to even try to put into words. So why, you ask, would I listen to the book in its entirety? The superb narration by Claire Danes. If Audible does not have her under contract, shame on them! She was perfect - the only reason to stay with this wacky tale.
since I've read this!" books. Wow, what a waste of time and a credit. While the premise could have been great if better developed, it droned on and never came to a real conclusion. Very disappointing. Based on this book, I won't read another Atwood.
Danes reading brings Offred to life.
Atwood is a master of the English language. Her description of the mundane becomes riveting. I appreciate her skills as a writer so much more now than I did when I first read this story as a young woman. The first person present voice draws the reader in, allows her to feel...to be...Offred. Haunting. Beautiful. Terrifying in its vision of what might have been. Terrifying because it still might.
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