The audio version -- out today -- of the dystopian tale about the lives of oppressed women living in a totalitarian theocracy in a near-future version of New England is read by Emmy-winning actress Claire Danes. In addition to actress’ steady narration, the Audible exclusive edition of The Handmaid’s Tale extends the novel beyond the original final line, “Are there any questions?,” with a new afterword from Atwood as well as an essay written by author Valerie Martin (Mary Reilly).
Indeed, there are many questions that readers have and that are often asked of Atwood: Is The Handmaid’s Tale a feminist novel? Is it anti-religious? And, is it a prediction? In her new afterword, she provides detailed answers to these questions, which have taken on an entirely new resonance under the current political climate.
In addition to the audio clip above, ET has your first look at a passage, in which Atwood also details her cameo on Hulu’s upcoming TV adaptation and the unexpected emotions that came over her while filming her scene:
In this series I have a small cameo. The scene is the one in which the newly conscripted Handmaids are being brainwashed in a sort of Red Guard “Red Centre” re-education facility. They must learn to renounce their previous identities, to know their place and their duties, to understand that they have no real rights but will be protected up to a point if they conform, and to think so poorly of themselves that they will accept their assigned fate and not rebel or run away.
The Handmaids sit in a circle, with the taser-equipped Aunts forcing them to join in what is now called (but was not, in 1984) the “slut-shaming” of one of their number, Jeanine, who is being made to recount how she was gang-raped when a teenager. Her fault, she led them on -- that is the chant of the other Handmaids.
Although it was “only a movie” and these were actresses who would be giggling at coffee break, and I myself was “just pretending,” I found this scene horribly upsetting. It was way too much like way too much history. Yes, women will gang up on other women. Yes, they will accuse others to keep themselves off the hook: we see that very publicly in the age of social media, which enables group swarmings. Yes, they will gladly take positions of power over other women, even -- and, possibly, especially -- in systems in which women as a whole have scant power: all power is relative, and in tough times any amount is seen as better than none. Some of the controlling Aunts are true believers, and think they are doing the Handmaids a favour: at least they haven’t been sent to clean up toxic waste, and at least they won’t get raped, not as such. Some of the Aunts are sadists. Some are opportunists. And they are adept at taking some of the stated aims of 1984 feminism -- such as the anti-porn campaign and greater safety from sexual assault -- and turning them to their own advantage. As I say: real life.
The special edition of The Handmaid’s Tale is now available exclusively on Audible.com. Hulu’s upcoming adaptation, also starring Alexis Bledel, Samira Wiley and Ann Dowd in addition to Moss and Fiennes, premieres April 26.