Narrator: Claire Danes
Published by Audible on January 1st 1985
Pages: 11 hours
Also by this author: Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, MaddAddam
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...
‘We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.
We lived in the gaps between the stories.’
After the United States government is overturned, a fundamentalist Christian regime is established that call themselves the Republic of Gilead. All women’s rights are declared invalid: the right to vote, to have a job, to read or make any decisions on their own. With the ongoing war that followed the demolition of the government, infertility has become a massive problem as most women lack the capabilities now. Women are selected to be handmaid’s and their sole purpose is to provide offspring for the elite members of society. The Handmaid’s Tale is a memoir of sorts of one woman that was selected to be a handmaid.
‘I found myself asking why no one did anything to prevent it happening; surely people would protest, people would try to stop them?’
What a shocking, distressing and jaw-dropping read. The vital aspect of a good dystopian read is whether or not the transformed world is believable and realistic because that’s what truly brings it to life. The Handmaid’s Tale was disturbingly realistic simply due to the ease in which everything was transformed. Women got up, took care of their children and went to work like any other in this day and age. Except one morning, they got up and were told they were no longer able to work. They went to the store and were told they were no longer to make purchases of their own. And all this happened overnight. My first response was to consider how unlikely that is, but rights can be given and they can be taken away just as easily, even in the span of a single night. It’s quite the imaginable nightmare.
‘But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.’
The main character, Offred, is a woman clearly lacking in spirit after all the horrors she has suffered. The numbness is a bandaid of sorts to help her continue each day yet her anger and outrage remains clear as well as her perseverance to survive. Her day to day accountings are interspersed with memories of the past, when she had a job, and a husband, and a child of her own. That was the most tragic aspect of this story. It’s not the fact that women were basically walking wombs and their only purpose was to provide children for another but that these women had memories of life before. They knew of how different life can be and they had those memories to haunt them.
The Handmaid’s Tale is an incredibly visceral possibility of a potential future that only shows just how fragile women’s rights can be.