This is probably one of the very few times I would recommend the TV series/movie over the book, and I haven’t even watched the show. The Handmaid’s Tale novel was ultimately a very limited view of an intriguing, haunting world.
Very minor spoilers (just a mention of one event) are below.
The United States has become a dictatorship after a war that changed the world. The new laws, inspired by ancient Old Testament rules, are designed to repress women and delegate them to roles serving men. The most high profile role is that of a Handmaid - a woman assigned to a man of power in the hopes of becoming pregnant.
Offred, a Handmaid serving a Commander, spends her time performing her duties and remembering her past life as a free woman. She learns secrets about the new world and her role in it, but is there any hope for a return to freedom?
The Handmaid’s Tale was a weird combination of boring and interesting. Boring because nothing really happened to the main character and interesting because I wanted to know what was behind her day-to-day life. What caused the war that led to this life? What are the political powers governing the world? How did they come to power? Who was in the secret rebellious group Offred learned about? The little tidbits I did get were enough to keep me turning the page, as it was very well written.
This is often my problem with dystopian novels. I need the backstory. I always have too many questions with this genre and they never get answered. I know that's generally because the story sticks to one person's viewpoint, but come on give me SOMETHING. I wanted to love this, but I didn’t feel like I had enough information to love it.
Thankfully, even though it was 300 pages of unanswered questions, I was never bored and I got through the novel pretty quickly. It did keep me thinking about today’s crazy world, and if it would be possible for us to get to this point. The optimist in me says “No, there are laws in place for a reason and society gets better over time”...but the pessimist in me says “But Trump is in office we are all SCREWED!” And that makes this story hit painfully close to home.
As far as events in The Handmaid’s Tale go, the scene where the Commander takes Offred out to spend a night as his toy was the most entertaining one. The makeup, the clothes, and the women were a fascinating look at “fun” in this strange society. The rest was just Offred walking around and remembering her previous life as she did her Handmaid duties. Her duties were, obviously, horrible. When the pregnancy ritual happened, I was making an “ewww” face the entire time I read it.
I did like the ending; I know a lot of people were put off by it. Not knowing exactly what happened made the dangerous world seem more threatening. It’s the only unanswered question in the book that I wasn’t bothered by.
Again, I think I would enjoy the show much more than the book. Hopefully, it was able to expand this fascinating fictional world and provide a little more depth and emotion. Offred’s story was interesting, but I wanted to see what was out there beyond the experience of one woman.
The Handmaid’s Tale gets 2.5 (rounded up to 3) stars from me. The book left me hanging somewhat, but I definitely want to check out the show.