I have read The Handmaid’s Tale maybe 4 times since college, so when my book club picked it for our December meeting, I thought I’d see if the audiobook version was any good. Oh my my, oh hell yes, time to put on that Handmaid’s Dress because Claire Danes simply kills it.
As Offred, trapped in a bizarre patriarchal system where she has to bear children for wealthy men or else risk exile or worse, Danes finds a beautiful balance between the handmaid’s naiveté and her bravery. She’s stupid and smart at the same time, self-aware and terrified of self-reflection. Danes also brings the other characters to life with a wonderful variety of intonations and acting choices, and some of them, especially the unhinged Jeanine, made me look forward to their scenes.
I was especially struck by the anachronisms in the story, because the world has changed so much since Atwood wrote her groundbreaking book. I wonder if the takeover she described would be possible in a world with social media and texting and outrage. The creation of Gilead seemed dependent upon a lack of communication between citizens that prevented any kind of cohesive public rebellion. It just doesn’t seem possible for a theocracy to triumph in the age of Twitter and dashboard cams. But what I appreciate about Atwood is that despite being outdated, the story itself still holds together beautifully, and is no less powerful that it was the first time I read it. Maybe it’s important to be reminded that technology shouldn’t breed complacency when it comes to human rights. A Facebook like isn’t the same thing as standing up for injustice when it may actually cost you something.
Speaking of the trouble with women, I devoured The Academy Girls by Nora Carroll. A mystery spanning two different eras at an all-girls boarding school, this book expertly captured so many of the subtle nuances of single-sex education, not just socially but academically. It wasn’t the usual “girls are catty” kind of story, though it did deal with the dissolution of a friendship, and the murder mystery at its heart didn’t end with a huge cat-and-mouse confrontation, like on top of a roof or something. I loved how it unfolded and while I was enjoying the suspense of the mystery, I was also filled with nostalgia for my days at an all-girls school.
Right after that one I read In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware, a creepy little number about a bachelorette party that none of the guests seem to want to attend. The atmosphere was top notch and the characters interesting, but I felt like it wasn’t as fully formed as it could have been. I needed more of Clare, the bride, and Flo, her stalk-y best friend. Plus it bothered me that one of the characters makes a convenient exit for no good reason. I wanted to like it more than I did, but I still enjoyed it. Because honestly, when it comes to books like this, I’m pretty forgiving.