Published: 26 March 2019
Author: Margaret Atwood
Art & Adaptation: Renée Nault
Published by: Jonathan Cape
Genre: Graphic Novel
Length: 240 pages
Reading dates: 25-26 December 2021
“Everything Handmaids wear is red: the colour of blood, which defines us.” Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, where women are prohibited from holding jobs, reading, and forming friendships. She serves in the household of the Commander and his wife, and under the new social order she has only one purpose: once a month, she must lie on her back and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if they are fertile. But Offred remembers the years before Gilead, when she was an independent woman who had a job, a family, and a name of her own. Now, her memories and her will to survive are acts of rebellion.
The Handmaid’s Tale and its iconic images – the red of the Handmaids, the blue of the Wives, the looming Gileadean Eye – have been adapted into a film, an opera, a ballet, and multi-award-winning TV series. This ground-breaking new graphic novel edition, adapted and featuring arresting artwork by Renée Nault, is destined to become a classic in its own right.
I first read The Handmaid’s Tale back in 2017 and thoroughly enjoyed it, and have since watched most of the TV adaption. I was very excited for The Testaments and in fact made sure to buy it the day it came out. Guess what? I still haven’t read it. 2022 is the year I am going to pick it up so I thought I’d refresh my memory by picking up this graphic novel adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale and I’m so glad I did.
Set in the Republic of Gilead, women are thoroughly controlled by the establishment and have no freedom. We learn that fertility has become a problem and that is where the handmaid’s come in – a handmaid is provided to married couples of a high status and once a month, the husband has sex with the handmaid with the wife present in order to try and conceive a child, which when born would become the couple’s child. We see in flashbacks how life became this way from June’s point of view before she is Offred (scarily believable), how she had a husband and child and has no idea what happened to them.
I don’t think I have ever read a graphic novel based on a book before and obviously there aren’t as many words in a graphic novel but this one does an amazing job of telling the story, the illustrations allowing the reader to conclude how the characters are feeling. The colours in the illustrations are striking – each set of women characters have their own distinctive colours – the red of the handmaid’s dresses, the blue of the wives and the green of the servants make for a vibrant book.
We only hear from the main character Offred but we see through the illustrations what the other characters are thinking, especially the Commanders wife – her face gives away her feelings and she is drawn as a bitter looking woman.
I really enjoyed the graphic novel adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale and am now hoping to read The Testaments in the next couple of months. Do you like graphic novels? I’d love some recommendations!
About the authors:
Margaret Atwood is the author of more than fifty books of fiction, poetry and critical essays. Her novels include Cat’s Eye, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin and the MaddAddam trilogy. Her 1985 classic, The Handmaid’s Tale, was followed in 2019 by a sequel, The Testaments, which was a global number one bestseller and shared the Booker Prize. In 2020 she published Dearly, her first collection of poetry for a decade.
Atwood has won numerous awards including the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Imagination in Service to Society, the Franz Kafka Prize, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. In 2019 she was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour for services to literature. She has also worked as a cartoonist, illustrator, librettist, playwright and puppeteer. She lives in Toronto, Canada.
About the Illustrator:
Renée Nault is a Canadian artist known for her vivid and dreamlike illustrations in watercolour and ink. Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and graphic novels worldwide. She currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia.