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.
Cover Art by Fred Marcellino. Used with permission of Pippin Properties, Inc.
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)
Yes...Claire Danes certainly out reads me!!
Of course, ""Hunger Games" comes first to mind...but so does "The Chose One" and I put it on par with Kate Winslet's reading of "Terez Raquin" in narrative quality and twisted romance!
Her perfect pitch of dead emotion with pleading description. You can see her in the part and it feels like a block buster film.
Both the main character (Offred) and her true love. I'm sure they'd have stories to tell!
Not to be missed! Should be on A-list, if it isn't already!!
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.
It's amazing how different we all are. A number of reviewers have said this is their favourite book. For me I could only endure 90 minutes. It is boring, slow, describes an unlikely dystopia, and the characters are utterly uninteresting.
Developed characters. Created a mystery or storyline that was even remotely interesting.
It seems OK
None that I could find in 90 minutes
Glad I got it on special!
I don't mind the long commute anymore. Sometimes I even drive around town just to get to place I can stop.
I read this book my senior year in college. It was so disturbing, I had to call a friend at 2am to talk about it. She read it and did the same to me. I took it on a trip to Thailand with a dozen other students and every one of them read it and we had talks about it after each one finished it. It is a thought provoking book that seems far too plausible. I think it should be a must read for every high school or college student.
Since that first read in 1987, I have reread it a dozen times. When I joined Audible I asked for it, several times and was happy when they got it. It continues to be one of the best books I have ever read or listened to. I can't recommend it highly enough!
audio book junkie
Margaret Atwood created a new world. A dark world, a dreary world, a world where the lower class is unbelievably oppressed and the upper-class quietly miserable albeit powerful. I love when books transport your into an imaginary world and The Handmaid's Tale does just that. It's a great 'What if' story; 'What if' women lost all of their rights? 'What if' a small, conservative group of men made all the decisions... 'What if'?
There is an element of dis-satisfaction in the ending of this novel but books don't always need to be neatly wrapped up... sometimes a descriptive moment in time is enough.
Although not a sci-fi enthusiast, this book was so well written and performed that I was hooked from the first chapter. And stayed hooked all the way through the epilogue. Entertaining, and not too far fetched. Could this happen to us?
Caire Danes was wonderful.
Prepare to be depressed...upset....appalled.
I believe I have suffered enough in this life to not have my only form of entertainment take me to this place. I understand that we should not wear blinders because something like this could actually happen. Is it so self absorbing to desire to not involve my brain and heart in this imagined ugliness. It takes me down too far.
I know we as people perpetrate atrocities on one another. Maybe the purpose of this book is to open our eyes, make us responsible to do something.
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?
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
What an amazing experience to listen to the performance of this book. The story was sad, hopeless, and agonizing, but also gripping and well told. Claire Danes does an excellent job of portraying Offred (we never learn her real name). Highly recommend!
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