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)
Sad, disturbing, borderline scary. What would I do?... But we human can adjust to just about anything... and there will always be love and the quest for belonging, for a touch and for an identity. Great, thought-provoking book. I wish the ending was more revealing...
If there was any sense of the story going anywhere except around in cirlces.
The fact that what little action exists (meaning anything to advance the plot) is mired in irrelevant flashback and endless introspection by the narrator. Listening to this story was frustrating because one needs to put up with a barrage of pointless observations, trivial references and constant reminiscing before the story takes even a half-step formward.
I don't recall ever falling asleep during any parts where Ms. Danes was performing as Aunt Lydia. However, that's not saying much. The rest of the characters were transparent to point of non-existence.
Although most of this book was easily forgettable the scenes in which the narrator recalled her mother were particularly hard to sit through.
I've rarely given up on a book no matter how bad because I always choose to believe that it's got to get better. For me to abandon this audiobook after paying what I consider to be a expensive price, shows how unpleasant listening to this audio book was for me.
I think Claire Danes did as good a job as this material would allow her to do. Unfortunately, despite her talents, the story itself served as nothing more than a sleeping aid for me. I can't believe this book won the Arthur C. Clarke award.
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.
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.
The main character was still young, but spoke of the past the way a grandchild might speak of the grandparent's time - not the way a person would speak of their own not so distant past. She mentioned a time before when women made rugs in their 'spare time'. As though the hard work that women performed was related to leisure activities - I doubt anyone was familiar with the term 'spare time' when that level of effort was required to maintain a home. It was like the writer wasn't from planet earth, and had just read about it and interpreted the story incorrectly. There was a long introduction of nothing much happening that I thought might lead up to something interesting, but it never did. It reminded of the ramblings of a schizophrenic full of distorted thoughts and hallucinations. A dialog with snippets of songs, books, and TV shows all mixed in with odd references to history, paintings, and school - the pieces not fitting together. A bland recipe with garbage thrown in to spice it up. Altogether a bad experience - I listened for hours, but I just couldn't finish. I didn't care how the character got where she was or what happened after and I certainly didn't want to waste any more time on the story. I wish I could wash the whole thing out of my mind.
The majority of people in the world would be happy to live in the society and the political system described herein. It would be a vast improvement in their current circumstances. This would include about half of the people in the United States. Almost all of the people in Central and South America, Almost all of the people in Russia and Eastern Europe, Almost all of Africa, most of the middle East and most of Asia.
For perhaps 2/3 of the world's population their circumstances would be vastly improved by living in Gilead. There would be ample food and shelter, ample jobs and freedom from. Granted their would no be romance, but romance is not present where there is an absence of food and shelter and people are in survival mode. Think Uganda, Rwanda, The Congo, Iran,Iraq,Syria North Korea, Appalachia, Detroit and compare them to the handmaids circumstances and their is no contest. I would opt for the benevolent fascist state described here.
What makes it scary for most reader's is it has happened to well educated, wealthy Wasps in the United States, some of whom have been deprived of some simple privileges. They can't smoke or drink alcohol easily, they can't read magazines, they can't get ice cream, and sometimes they can't randomly choose their mates and sex. Most people in the world don't have these privileges. Also, they are stuck in a cast system. Most people in the world have a cast system or class system.
Mrs Atwood is a very talented writer and able to make ordinary events quite scary by renaming them or using them in a different context. For instance by renaming Senators commanders they take on a more Sinister identity (although I'm not certain anything could be more sinister than a senator). Their wives have become sterile and the need proxy carriers for their babies (not that much different than the wealthy do now). As, I mentioned Margaret Atwood is a talented writer and able to use language to convey an ominous mood that disappears when examined in the light of day. I should also mention that all of the Ethnics in our current society seem to have disappeared without explanation. Maybe this is the scary part. All of the Jews (all 12 million of them have emigrated to Israel). unless they were loud or obnoxious and they were dealt with differently (not that different then current society). All of the black people and Latinos have disappeared The disappearance of ethnic diversity may be a little bit scary.
I agree that Clare Danes reading is first class and almost makes one forget about how silly this book is compared to reality which is really scary. What is surprising is the willing suspension of disbelief of the readers who have evaluated this book and that any thinking person could take this book seriously after we have lived through Nazi Germany.
Claire Danes narration is flawless and totally believable. The story sort of grabs you and leads you down a path but the ending---no...that can not be the end...I went back and looked for another section---nothing...I back up the player to see if I missed something--nope...the end is just the end- no resolution, no nothing- just a good-bye-that's-all. Somebody should really finish the story.
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!
Increasing my ops tempo by allowing storytellers to whisper in my ear(buds).
I found this to be a pointless and depressing book. The characters are very human in their frailties and susceptibility to Political Correct thinking. I can see echoes of our own society in this book, but what I see is coming from the statists already in power and not from the religious wing of the populace. Hypocrisy is, of course, a theme in any such work, and, ironically, this one gets quite preachy when it comes to the dangers of religiosity. Several times the subject of the abolishment of abortion is raised as if it were some great symbolic tragedy indicative of the decline of the America that once was. I found the protagonist to be as sort of anti-heroine. She does not inspire us to greatness. But her plight does cause us to reflect on what we might do in similar circumstances. No causes are offered. No solutions. The life of the Handmaid is pointless.
Clare Danes is a fine reader. I found her narration quite droll and sarcastic throughout which fits the text. After a few chapters her voice warms up and some emotion occasionally creeps into the text.
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