Book vs. TV: The Handmaid’s Tale

Book vs. TV: The Handmaid’s Tale

For this blog post I am reviewing and then comparing/contrasting the Book The Handmaid’s Tale and the TV show based on it. I had previously seen the first two episodes of the TV show last year but I was in the middle of a really busy time and never watched the rest. During May, I decided to read the book and once I finished it, I watched the TV show from the beginning to see how it compared. Please read on to see my thoughts on both.

The book…

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, first published in 1986, is a dystopian fiction novel set in the near-future. In a world of declining fertility rates and environmental destruction, a totalitarian religious regime assassinates the United States government, suspends the constitution and assumes control of the people. The Gilead regime enslaves all fertile females to be handmaids for the powerful regime commanders and their infertile wives. Infertile females are enslaved as Marthas, the domestic servants in the commanders households. Then there are the econowives, some of the lowest ranking females, married to the low ranking men, such as the guardians, who serve the commanders. Finally, there are the unwomen (usually widows, elderly, lesbians, infertile women, nuns etc.) who are not able to be integrated into the Gilead Republic and are therefore sentenced to be slaves in the colonies, often dangerous and toxic wastelands where they will die within 2 – 3 years. The novel follows Offred, a handmaid serving a high-ranking commander, Fred and his wife Serena Joy. The story is told from Offred’s perspective as if she is recounting it to someone after that fact, and it jumps between her life before the regime, her experience when the regime took over and her life in the commander’s household.

My thoughts on the book The Handmaids Tale:

  • This book was really interesting as the narrative was written in a really simple way, so it was easy to read and understand, but it has a really complicated and detailed underlying narrative.
  • There wasn’t really a beginning, middle and end to this story and you are left wondering at the end. I kept waiting for something to happen until I reached the end and realised that was it.
  • There is a lot of Offred’s internal dialog, while there is interaction with other characters, a lot of it is her recounting what happened from memory and her observations.
  • It’s quite disturbing reading this because the world described just prior to Gilead’s takeover sounds pretty much like our world now, and while this is a dystopian, it really doesn’t feel impossible or ridiculously far fetched.
  • My favourite line is ‘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.’. And of course ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’.
  • Some of the words that come to mind while reading this are; confusing, depressing, intense, aggravating, sickening, infuriating, intriguing, scary and WTF?

Overall, this book was really well written and easy to read. Although the subject matter was somewhat disturbing and some parts were downright abhorrent. I really enjoyed the book and give it 4/5.

If you loved the book, I watched a YouTube video by Leena Norms the other day with recommendations of some other books you may like if you enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale, feel free to check out her suggestions below.

The T.V. show…

The T.V. show The Handmaid’s Tale based on the above-mentioned book was created by Bruce Miller and released in April 2017. The first season consists of ten, 1 hour length episodes, and its release was met with a lot of hype. Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) delivers a stunning performance as Offred, winning a Golden Globe for Best Actress. Other mentionable cast members include Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls) who plays Ofglen and Samira Wiley (Orange Is The New Black) who plays Moira. The Handmaid’s Tale became the first streaming service series to win an Emmy for Outstanding Series along with seven other awards from thirteen nominations. After the success of the first season, it was renewed for a second series which began airing in April 2018.

My thoughts on the T.V. show The Handmaid’s Tale:

  • Firstly, I really love the soundtrack and the aesthetics, the creators did such a great job in this regard, it was perfect.
  • The casting is fantastic, Elisabeth Moss deserves all the awards, she is amazing. I also thought Aunt Lydia was really well cast, Ann Dowd did a great job playing that role.
  • This show is brutal, it is violent, gory and scarily realistic. Given the subject matter of the book, it was always going to be fairly confronting, but the creators certainly didn’t shy away from visualising all of the fucked up aspects of this story.
  • Every episode was perfectly thought out containing important detail building into the overall plot line.

I really enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale TV show and I’m giving it 5/5 – thats not to say I enjoyed it more than the book, this rating is based on its merit as a TV show and not in comparison to the original novel.

Book vs. TV…

Ok so let me start by saying, I liked the book on its own, and I liked the TV show on its own. Comparing them is probably going to sound like I’m hating on the TV show just because I read the book first so I’m relating everything back to that, however I really did appreciate the way the TV show was done and I think it was amazing on its own.

Here’s what I noticed when watching the TV show after reading the book:

  • Firstly, the characters (namely the commander and Serena Joy) are cast a lot younger than I envisioned when reading the book, however I think they did well with casting.
  • Furthermore on the topic of casting, the the Gilead society of the book is extremely racist and had forcibly removed all of the black people from its Republic, however in the TV adaption, quite a few characters are non-white including Moira and Luke, and Offred’s own daughter is biracial despite being described as fair in the book. I thought this was a really good move by the shows creators.
  • A major difference between the book and TV show is the naming of Offred and her commander. In the book we never learn Offred’s real name and we never learn that the commander’s surname. There is speculation at the end of the book in the historical notes that the commander could have been Fred Waterford or Fred Judd however there was no confirmation and both commanders played a role in Gilead’s conception. The TV adaption confirms Offred’s real name as June and the commander is in fact Fred Waterford.
  • The TV adaption did a really good job of keeping the overall concept of Gilead in line with the book, it is very accurate with regards to the context in which the events are occurring.
  • I find Offred in the TV show to be way more sassy, even the monologue in her head is more sassy.
  • The timeline of things jumps around a bit, I feel like we learned some things in a different order in the TV show in comparison to the book, like the salvaging happening in the first episode, that actually happened near the end of the book.
  • The book is told only from Offred’s perspective so we only learn about things she sees and hears, however the TV show gives more depth to other characters in scenes that occur when Offred is not present, for example, we see more of Serena Joy’s story and how she aided in the conception of Gilead, only to be confined by it herself – Karma!
  • Finally, probably my biggest observation, they definitely hollywood-ified the shit out of it. There are so many plot points that did not happen at all in the book or did not happen in that way.

Overall, I really loved both the book and the TV show on their own, they are in some ways similar and in a lot of ways quite different, but I think that’s a good thing. The TV show is fantastic regardless of whether you have read the book, and the book is a classic worth a read.

I definitely recommend checking out both!

I hope you have enjoyed, feel free to let me know your thoughts and opinions on The Handmaid’s Tale I would love to hear from you.

Until next time,

x Kiah


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