The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Like many, many people, I’ve been watching the Channel 4 adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale recently; and, like many, many people, it has inspired me to re-read the book.

I first read it years ago, and quite honestly, I couldn’t remember a) how faithful the show was being to the plot (though I was pretty sure the references to Tinder weren’t in there…!) and b) how the book ended, so I picked up my copy for a refresher. At the time of writing, I haven’t yet seen the end of the season, so I won’t be able to compare fully!

I hardly need to write a review. This unbelievably prescient dystopian novel – like 1984, We, and Brave New World – has become a classic, and many people smarter and more eloquent than me have written reams on the subject (not to mention all of the essays and/or dissertations). Still, I loved this book when I first read it, and I loved it again – possibly even more – on the re-read, so I’ll share my thoughts anyway.

Firstly, the show is not a to-the-letter faithful adaptation, but in my opinion it hasn’t lost anything; although normally I’m a fan of not fixing what ain’t broke, sometimes the best adaptations are the ones which are faithful to the spirit of the book – and I think this is that. There are some fairly major plot differences mixed in with some word-for-word recreated scenes, and some up to date pop culture, and the overall effect is one that I think captures the point and the feeling of the novel really well. Of course, I haven’t seen the end of season one yet, and apparently there’s a season two which goes past the end of the book, so who knows if I’ll still think so once that happens!

Either way though, I’m glad they’ve done such a good job of it. Quite apart from my well-documented love of dystopian future novels, The Handmaid’s Tale quite obviously taps into some core values around politics, feminism, gender roles etc – all too important in the current social and political climate. I’m not going to rant here – because that’s not what this blog is for (apart from this one (oops)) – but I think it’s very telling how the iconic red capes and white winged bonnets have become a symbol, with IRL handmaids turning up at protests all over the world.

The story has obviously lost nothing with age, then, and still strikes true. One thing that the book highlights better than the TV show is just how incredibly prescient the story really is – some mentions of using Islamic extremism as a political scapegoat, and some of the rhetoric about returning to the greatness of traditional values had me flipping to the front of the book for the publication date… and I have to confess I went a little white-faced when I saw that Atwood published this book in 1985.

Nineteen. Eighty. Five.

That’s four years before I was born!

It’s quite depressing, actually, to realise that the problems of systemic and cultural sexism, racism, oppression, et al have been being called out and protested for literally my entire lifetime. It’s only too easy to imagine the changes to law and mass freezing of credit cards and bank accounts described in the book actually happening… ugh.

Anyway, it’s excellent. If you liked the show, read the book because it’s phenomenal… maybe just make sure you’re in a  good place before you do! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to eat some comforting ice cream. Which I bought. With my own money. That I earned from my job, which I’m good at and got on my own merit.

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