Imagine if you will a world not quite like our own. One thing is different. It is the seed that grows the tree of our alternative realities. In 1984, we had a different outcome during WWII. In The Handmaid’s Tale, birth rates are down and it’s all out fault. We use pills to mess up our hormones, condoms to prevent conception and abort it if we don’t want it. Fewer and fewer women are getting pregnant and the extremist Christians get to do their ‘told you so’ dance. They overthrow the government and step in to fix the mess they warned us so frequently about. Passages of the bible are taken literally and women are reduced to their basic biological function. Those that can produce, will. Warning, this is a very blunt review.
This book is terrible. For many reasons. Firstly, terrible things are happening to our narrator: Offred. She’d named so because she is the Handmaid of Fred. She belongs to him, his household and his country’s future survival. All of the staff gather for the ceremony; the reading of the bible and then husband, wife and handmaid are excused into another room. If you had healthy ovaries or had children ‘before’ this was your life now under the watchful of everyone. Her life is dictated her the bible and the new regime and it’s terrible. And the telling isn’t not great either.
Offred is not a wordsmith. Her life is dire and repetitive. This comes across in the writing. She doesn’t exactly transport us to a new world; the sights, the smells and scenery. But who would want to? It reads like a documentary, a diary, non fiction. Given that handmaids like the majority of Gilead can not communicate or write, our narrator conveys facts over feelings. As if she knows she’s speaking to someone outside the boundaries, someone that can help. That doesn’t stop her throwing out the odd commentary on the state of affairs with her favourite swear word: fuck. So it’s not all terrible, Offred has a great sense of purpose. She knows how things should be and that she has to survive to be reunited with her daughter. We’re cheering her on from the sidelines.
I have always meant to read this book as it’s a modern classic. With the announcement of the television series, I bought it and reading it as soon as possible. I have now seen the TV series and I have to say, and I never say this, the TV series is better than the book. The Hulu production gave us so much more than the book could because it can. The book, it transpires, is an organised collection of tapes that were discovered after the fall of Gilead. Offred is not a bad narrator, she is a restricted narrator. With the magic of television, we find out what happened to characters after the formation of this ‘great’ society. And if you read my rambled frequently, you know I always want more. It was far more satisfying than the book. And we’ve only been given the first season. Timed perfectly too. I could discuss why but then this would turn into an essay. I’ll end with Fuck You Trump. Illegitimi non carborundum.