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.
The Handmaid's Tale is part of Audible’s A-List Collection, featuring the world’s most celebrated actors narrating distinguished works of literature that each star had a hand in selecting. For more great books performed by Hollywood’s finest, click here.
©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)
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.
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.
The chilling thing about The Handmaid's Tale is not the oppressive misogynistic regime of the Republic of Gilead, but how effective it is as a police state and how plausible its operation if not its genesis is. All the small ways in which Gilead dehumanizes and isolates, turns women (men too, but especially women) into empty vessels, tools, nameless, faceless units of biological function. This is a dystopia that is actually scary and horrible because unlike Panem or, for that matter, certain other feminist dystopias written by authors named Sheri S. Tepper or Suzette Haden Elgin, this one requires minimal suspension of disbelief. Gilead is not a lot more extreme than certain Islamic regimes, the FLDS, or North Korea. Could the United States literally turn into the Republic of Gilead? Atwood proposes a massacre of the Executive Branch and Congress as the incitement for the takeover of the government by right-wing theocrats. Things get worse bit by bit, in backstory narrated by the Handmaid of the tale, until we arrive at the police state in which the nameless protagonist finds herself trapped.
Offred ("Of-Fred") never tells us her real name. She remembers the time before Gilead, when life was "normal." She had a husband. a daughter, a job. Now she is a Handmaid, a forced surrogate who, because she is one of the few women in the country who still has viable ovaries (Atwood never really explains what caused this widespread sterility, though it's implied that it's a result of pollution and radiation), is obligated to attempt to become pregnant by one of Gilead's Commanders. This obliges her to live in the Commander's house in a sort of veiled purdah, suffering the resentment of the Commander's wife, who has to participate in the humiliating procreation "ceremony." The way in which the Wives, supposedly free women of much higher status than the Handmaids or the Aunts or the "Marthas," are little better than chattel themselves despite their privileges, is something Atwood draws our attention to without spelling it out or hitting us over the head, but it's how we come to feel sympathy for the Commander's wife, Serena-Joy, former evangelical singer and advocate for a "Godly" society who is now angry, resentful, and bitter now that she's gotten what she supposedly wanted. Serena-Joy is just as oppressed and constrained as the Handmaids, she just has a prettier cage that lets her see sunlight through the bars.
Atwood has taken some flack for claiming at one point that she didn't write science fiction. Although she later backed off from that a bit, after reading The Handmaid's Tale, I can kind of see her point. The Handmaid's Tale is a lot like 1984, a speculative look at how very badly wrong things could go in our society, given a few flips of the historical dial, and the point is not the "alternate history" it creates but what this look at a dystopian society that maybe could be tells us. Is 1984 science fiction? Kind of — Orwell creates a new society, a new language, and mentions a few bits of technology that were futuristic at the time he wrote it. But it would be fair to say that it's not a conventional sci-fi story, at least, and that's also true of The Handmaid's Tale. Atwood isn't making up this fictional off-the-rails version of a future U.S. to do worldbuilding or as a vehicle for a tale about rebellion or resistance. The small bits of resistance in this book consist of a thought, a whispered conversation, a glimpse of a banned magazine, and like 1984, we never know if the supposed resistance is for real. Offred is no rebel; she pines for the old days, she hates her "reduced circumstances" and the reeducation she undergoes at the Rachel and Leah Center, but she is mostly a passive chronicler of her age, a vessel, a Handmaid. Things are done to her; she doesn't do things, though she occasionally fantasizes about doing them.
Atwood writes in descriptive literary prose; Offred's thoughts are poignant, heavy, mournful, occasionally smart-alecky, but mostly you just feel the oppressive claustrophobia, the daily dehumanization and erasure, and how readily a modern 20th century woman with a brash feminist mother can find herself submitting to such wholesale, brutal oppression as the new normal, clinging to memories of her old life while slowly forgetting who she used to be. Her oppression is a hundred small humiliations every day, none really cruel or violent, just things reminding her of her status, all the things she is no longer allowed to do (read, write, show her face to men, use hand lotion, talk to anyone about non-trivial matters). In this environment, the smallest conversation, a meeting of eyes, can become an act of rebellion, and Atwood shows us that repeatedly, how defiant and rebellious can be the simple act of asserting, "I am here, I exist, I am a person."
This was a chilling book precisely because there are no action scenes, there is no grand escape, there is no uprising, and you keep wanting Offred to have some way out, to see some way out for any of the people of Gilead, but there is no cavalry coming to bring down the tyrants, no Katniss Everdeens or District 13 here. It ends, arguably, on a more hopeful note than Orwell's book does, but then we've been told repeatedly by Offred herself that she is an unreliable narrator.
It was much less of a feminist polemic than I expected it to be. Yes, the points about right-wing Christians and their various fetishes were made, and Gilead is definitely a nightmare product of the very worst woman-hating religious extremists, but Atwood shows them slaughtering Catholics and Baptists as zealously as they kill abortionists and homosexuals, and there is relatively little soapboxing on the part of the author. The story says a lot of things about what happens when you take certain ideologies seriously, but it does not serve as a vehicle just to knock down those ideologies and push the author's own dubious ideas like certain other authors who tread the same ground broken by The Handmaid's Tale (I am looking at you, Sheri S. Tepper).
So, this book really does deserve to be read. I didn't even read it as a "cautionary tale," per se - it stands on its own as a work of fiction. The characters stand out as living human beings who talk and think like real human beings, because they are so ordinary, in their extraordinary "reduced circumstances." Is this science fiction? Kinda not really. But it is a very dark Bible-thumping dystopia, by a literary author who writes better dystopias than all those trying-too-hard SF authors.
Claire Danes gives a great performance as Offred, making her sad, introspective, and occasionally hysterical as the mood demands it, though something about her voice occasionally annoyed me in the way it drew me out of the writing and made me focus on the narrator.
My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
There is no story to this book. Yet I would not call it episodic or slice of life. It is a tour de force stream of consciousness telling of what the world might be like under certain circumstances. It is securely anchored in the concerns of the 1980s, when it was written, but it is just as valid here in 2013, when some of the issues have shifted but the polarization is if anything worse than it was. It's not giving anything away to say that the book describes a reactionary dystopia where women's rights have been revoked. One of the interesting things Atwood does is invert what you would expect as a consequence of that. The female characters, bad and good, are still depicted as actual human beings. The male characters, for the most part, are mere automatons blindly serving the reactionary regime. I think this is Atwood's subtle way of pointing out that men as well as women are the victims of the repressive system that has taken power. There are a couple things I wish I could say about the ending but I will restrain myself. One thing I have to say is that it ends with one of the most beautiful paragraphs in all of literature.
Audible Member Since 2003
I have long looked for this title on Audible and was very pleased when it finally arrived. The story is told in the first person and Claire Danes performs it perfectly with the voice, I believe, that the author intended when she wrote this story.
The progression of the Tale is gradual and engaging, requiring the reader/listener to gather up bits of of carefully placed images and information to put together the picture of this repressive nation. Imagine the Taliban in control of the US government and one gets an idea of the society described in this story. It is very interesting to me that Ms Atwood wrote this book in 1985, long before the world became acquainted with the Taliban, as some of the images are eerily reminiscent of some of their tactics witnessed on TV after the 9/11 attacks.
The Handmaid's Tale comes to a conclusion and the book wraps up with a brilliant epilogue, answering many questions in a surprising and unique fashion.
Certainly not a happy story nor action-packed, but nonetheless wonderful and captivating. Claire Danes' performance is flawless.
Handmaid's Tale is very near the top of the audiobooks I've listened to.
Far too many to share, and my memorable moments tend to be spoilers.
Unlike most audiobook productions, Claire Danes chose to read the book to us. It isn't a dramatization. She is just such an excellent voice and is able to form a unique tie between reader and story.
Gripping story, couldn't turn it off.
It's a man's world and women are just it's useful by-products. Let them read? Certainly not. It might give them ideas. Allow them to converse? Even worse. Reproductive vehicles are their only value in this sterile future. Margaret Atwood creates a chilling world brought to life through the eyes of one handmaid, a quaint euphemism for "baby factory". Her terror, her frustration, her despair are vividly portrayed through the facile voice of the very talented Claire Danes. I feared the familiarity of her voice would be a distraction but she totally inhabits this fully realized character as well as the various voices of the other men and women in this frightening "tale". It could never really happen, right?
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.
This is definitely in the top 20% of the books I've listened to with Audible. The story is engaging and really makes you think about the consequences of some things going on in the world today. This certainly isn't a feel good book - but it's worth the time to push yourself to think through some challenging topics.
I liked that the background of the story really wasn't explained until the end - exactly the opposite of most stories but I thought it worked well. This format really kept you guessing as to what happened in the world to lead to this terrifying society.
Also - Claire Danes was fantastic as the narrarator. I'm not as picky as some about narration but she's one of the best that I've heard.
Definitley worth a credit
This is my granddaughter's picture! She is my love.
I'd heard about this book from another source. Here I read the summary and wasn't sure I would like it. After it started, I still wasn't sure because I couldn't really understand what was happening, but I kept listening. Before long I was hooked. This was one of the best stories I've heard, the best reader and I was overall very happy with this unusual story. Be careful what you ask for, you may get it! But you have to hear this story! The Handmaid's Tale will stay with you for a long long time.
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