Thursday, October 1, 2015

Audiobook Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Title: The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Narrator: Claire Danes
Publication Date: January 1, 1985
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
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Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now...

I have heard about this book for years, but never actually felt compelled to read it. When I found an audiobook and discovered that it was narrated by Claire Danes, I decided it was finally time to take the plunge! I had no real idea of what to expect, only that it was supposed to be pretty shocking. I came away extremely confused.

This is probably the hardest book ever to review and rate because it seems like everyone loves it. I didn't. Maybe because it's 2015 and it takes a lot to shock me? I don't know. This book was just a big confusing mess that was honestly kind of painful to get through. There were times when I had no idea what was going on, when the narrator would jump back and forth in time or go off on some random tangent. It was difficult to keep up and, honestly, really hard to believe. I know this is fiction and I know there has to be a level of suspension of disbelief, but this book asked for more than I could give.

Since everything that could possibly be said about this book is already out there, I'm just going to focus on a couple things. My biggest issue with The Handmaid's Tale is the idea that this society even exists. I think the biggest strike against this book is that Margaret Atwood set it in a recognizable time and place. If this had been a dystopian novel set in the distant future, it would have been a lot easier to accept. But asking me to believe that Offred lived in both "normal" America and in this completely insane dystopian society? I just can't.

Could something like this ever happen? I really doubt it. But IF it did, it would not happen in a matter of five years or so. People would never accept it. Husbands would not just roll over and allow their wives to be taken and used. And even more obviously, women would NOT allow themselves to be used in this way. I've read other dystopian fiction where children were raised in a cult-like setting and grew to accept completely insane lifestyles. But society as a whole could not be taken from modern America and thrown into this. The Handmaid's Tale doesn't do nearly enough to justify these circumstances. The fact is, society is not nearly as terrible as the author seems to imply. We are actually living in the most peaceful times in history. Certainly, we will not end up like this, at least in the very near future.

I wanted to love this book so much! Most of you probably know that I'm a huge fan of dystopian fiction. But The Handmaid's Tale was just ridiculous. Maybe in the 80s people were shocked by this. And if Margaret Atwood was aiming solely for shock value, perhaps she hit her mark. But as a cautionary tale, this really fell short for me. I'm not down with books that only exist to scare people, and I feel like that was this one's main goal.

°o°  Notes on the Audiobook  °o°
It's Claire Danes. Does anything else really need to be said? Claire Danes is a fantastic actor and she's a great voice actor as well! I'd love to listen to anything else that she narrates!