Given how well-done Hulu’s TV version of The Handmaid’s Tale turned out, I was curious to look into the original novel. I’d read it once twenty years ago in college and it stuck with me, but my recollection wasn’t enough to describe it as anything more than powerful.
So, now that I have reread it years later, did it hold up?
The Handmaid’s Tale, unsurprisingly, holds up incredibly well. Told by first person narrator Offred, we’re introduced to a world where for reasons only hinted at, fertility is at a premium (it’s implied to be due to nuclear accidents and various environmental issues), and what young women are capable are essentially tasked to carry children to term to various politically connected leaders. Offred, real name never given, narrates in a stream-of-consciousness, dreamlike manner where she slips back and forth between her horrifying present and a time “before” that she’s having a harder and harder time remembering.
What comes out strongest isn’t so much the hypocrisy of the leadership but the propaganda from other women, often insisting that men were uncontrollable animals and living in sexual servitude with only one purpose (procreation) and lose off all rights is somehow better for all involved.
Though the write-ups haven’t all gone live yet, most of the novel was covered by the first season. An epilogue set 150 or so years in the future gives some details without giving away Offred’s final fate, but I am curious where the story would go from here. Unlike many dystopias, Atwood’s is set in a remarkably undamaged world. There wasn’t some civilization-shattering something in the past no one talks about. The changeover was gradual and just happened. Maybe that makes the story scarier. If nothing else, it keeps it more topical even now, decades after publication. Ten out of ten forgotten memories.