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[Monday Reading] The Handmaid’s Tale and its Reinvention

"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood and adapted by Renee Nault.

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community. 


The Handmaid’s Tale

Written by Margaret Atwood
Published by Vintage (1996, first published 1985)
ISBN: 0099740915 (ISBN13: 9780099740919). Copy provided by Pansing Books. Book quotes layout via an iPhone app.

Buy The Handmaid’s Tale on Amazon | Book Depository

I really thought that I have reviewed The Handmaid’s Tale here a year ago, but apparently I haven’t. Thanks to Litsy, I was able to reconstruct just a few of my random ruminations as I re-read the novel for my IRL book club sometime in December 2017. I am pairing it here with its graphic novel adaptation – not so much a reinvention, but a repackaging of the novel in a powerfully-illustrated format.

I oftentimes remember a book based on the city where I read it. This book was my travel companion while I was in Kuala Lumpur. Here were my final thoughts on the book when I finished re-reading it:

I truly relished untangling the narrative slowly, marveling at the masterful storytelling and where it led me – and yes, it led me down dark alleyways and demented spaces – but transformed through lyrical language.

I watched the TV series adaptation on my own – it was way too meandering for my husband who preferred his crime-noir Scandinavian/European shows. I, on the other hand, appreciated the gradual build-up, the intensity of some scenes, the back-and-forth among the outstanding actors. Of course, I was expecting an older Serena Joy and Commander – but Ralph Fiennes did the role justice; and so did the very young Yvonne Strahovski.

As I was reviewing my considerable post-its while drafting this post, I chanced upon this quote that I marked – and I felt that it captured the nature of reinvention which happens to be our quarterly theme:

It is chilling, though, how this dystopian novel first published in 1985, could feel so contemporary now.


The Handmaid’s Tale (The Graphic Novel)

Written by Margaret Atwood Art and Adaptation by Renée Nault
Published by Nan A. Talese / Doubleday (2019)
ISBN: 038553924X (ISBN13: 9780385539241). Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

Buy The Handmaid’s Tale (Graphic Novel) on Amazon | Book Depository

My daughter bought the graphic novel adaptation when she received Kinokuniya vouchers for a review that she has done for a friend a few months ago. She read it in the course of a week and found it deeply disturbing.

Here is just a fragment from the essay that she wrote after reading the graphic novel:

The leader of the camp who is a woman would tell the other ladies “Where you are is not a prison, but a privilege.” So the question would be: What made these women strongly believe that being held in captivity and not being given the same treatment as males fair; that they should obey and follow the rules rather than speak out? Throughout the novel we see the protagonist, Offred, asking these same questions as well. She is seen battling her inner self on what she believes to be right and just, and whether or not she should take a stand.

This adaptation did not disappoint. The play with colours was effective, and the haunting artwork enough to add an atmospheric vibe that was only imagined in the literary novel. As my daughter noted:

The dullness of the background shows the cold atmosphere while the bright colors from the women’s uniform creates intensity as red is an emotionally intense color which stands for blood, fire, and communism. This accentuates the evident juxtaposition between the two different timelines in which Offred has lived through and how reality has changed throughout her life’s journey.

As the story goes back and forth between these two versions there is an evident shift and change with the character’s appearance. The past Offred is seen to be more vibrant and lively, her physical features show a brighter tone such as the character’s evident red blush and the more soft and pastel tones like peach and pink used to color these scenes.

The subdued colors that are heavily used throughout the graphic novel to depict the current timeline shows the more hostile and oppressive nature of society, the dark symbolizing the unsettling and tense environment that has started to take over the land. Overall, the colouring and illustrations in the graphic novel adaptation was one of my favorite details that helped enhance the story.  

I found the graphic novel to be eerie, striking, and effective. It has allowed me to experience the story again in a more visually affecting way, amplifying my horror and indignation. See for instance the way child birth is made a travesty of – with the hierarchy of females clearly depicted, gratuitously highlighting their worth in society:

I am now very much looking forward to watching Season 2 and reading the upcoming sequel, The Testaments by Margaret Atwood – definitely my most anticipated read this year.


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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

1 comment on “[Monday Reading] The Handmaid’s Tale and its Reinvention

  1. My husband has been encouraging me to read The Handmaid’s Tale so that we can watch the series, together. If I don’t finish it in 2019 then I plan to add it to my #MustReadin2020 list. I don’t know how I missed this one in my younger years. And now I’m looking forward to the graphic novel version, too. Thanks for sharing this, Myra, and have a wonderful reading week!

    Liked by 1 person

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