In this series, we bring you the genre novels you really should have read by now…
First Published: 1985
Genre: Speculative Fiction
There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.
Summary: Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, where power is vested in a handful of men who rule according to Biblical principles (or claim to). Giladean “Handmaids” wear red outfits, are stripped of their own names and identified as the property of their patrons (hence, “Of Fred”), and, once a month, participate in a bizarre ceremony in which the patron attempts to impregnate them. If they don’t manage to get pregnant, the penalty is exile and death in the Colonies. Offred battles boredom, negotiates a relationship of sorts with Fred, puts up with a lot of crap from Fred’s bitter wife Serena Joy, fends off advances from a doctor who offers to impregnate her in place of Fred (who may well be sterile), and dreams of better days with her lost husband and daughter. She’s no dummy, though, and when the opportunity arises to escape, she knows what to do.
Why It’s Must-Read: Because it reminds us to take nothing for granted, and its subject matter could hardly be more timely.
On Screen: Before the forthcoming television adaptation, starring Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski, a 1990 film starred Natasha Richardson as Offred, Robert Duvall as the Commander, and Faye Dunaway as Serena Joy.
In Other Media: A radio adaptation for the BBC, a Danish opera, and a stage adaptation have all been produced.
In Popular Culture: The novel has become a staple of women’s studies classes in the United States and Canada, and has inspired a certain amount of critical study – titles like “Sexual Surveillance and Medical Authority in Two Versions of The Handmaid’s Tale” abound.
Awards and Nominations: Nominated for the Nebula Award and the prestigious Booker Prize, and winner of the first Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom.