Over the last two days, I have watched the television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I read and studied the book at A Level and thoroughly enjoyed it. I often find myself thinking about its events, themes and messages whenever something in the real world challenges my beliefs on society, gender and identity.
Like many things, I do believe the book is better although this adaptation is certainly impressive. There is a serious level of mystery within the book that was absent in the television series. This is caused by a very insular point of view told by a rather unreliable narrator. Offred knows very little about the world around her so we as readers know very little too. I did not like this lack of mystery in the television programme but I appreciate the level of detail the creators have gone through in order to validate their interpretations of the text through inference. For example, the true identities of most/all of the novel’s characters are speculated but remain largely unknown. In the epilogue, written as a piece of metafiction about the novel’s events, possible identities for the characters are suggested by ‘academics’. These identities are the ones used in the television series, presumably to decrease confusion, direct the viewers’ intrigue elsewhere and allow the writers to create more realistic and well formed characters.
Whilst the book follows Offred directly, the television series is able to explore each character in more depth. These added narratives and points of view are certainly fascinating and are in line with the typical events and themes of the novel. Although this often disrupts the mystery of the story, I find it fascinating to see how someone else imagines possible scenarios and back stories for characters that are otherwise lost or largely unspoken for.
Overall, I really enjoyed watching this adaptation. It was as dark and harrowing as it should be, and had me hooked from start to finish. Although I am unsure as to whether a second series (presumably using Atwood’s characters but not her story) is a good idea, I now have respect for the creators and I will wait and see what they have planned before passing too much judgement.