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Time for a confession of bookish sins! I did a very “bad bookperson” thing and watched the show before I read the book. And then I had the audacity to like the show more.

So I shall talk about them today! Now, I am going to try very hard to be non-spoilery. However, if you are like me, and like to go into things blind, then… you should probably not read this. Just in case, you know?

I was interested in this book for basically forever because you know I’m a sucker for a good dystopian. But you know what I am historically not a fan of? Classics. So I avoided it, though kept saying I wanted to read it. As you do. Anyway, the show became a thing, and I swore to myself I’d read the book so I could watch the show. But after I got Hulu… I couldn’t control myself anymore, apparently.

I watched the first episode in goddamn horror. Beware: This shit is dark. And maybe it wouldn’t have hit so close to home a few years ago, but now? You can seriously understand somehow how this world came to be. And it’s terrifying. So it took me literal weeks to work up the guts to watch the next episode, and that is how I started. As much as I could handle, basically. The thing is, it was quite powerful and very good, so I wanted to keep watching! It was just… difficult. After about four episodes though, I was in, and I was able to binge them and still sleep at night.

Eventually, a month or so after I watched it, Val @ The Innocent Smiley was reading it and peer pressured me into reading it too. I’d had no plans, really, since I had watched it. But alas. I read the thing. And now we shall talk about them as separate entities, and also compare!

Just some random observations:

  • The show follows the book very closely in terms of plot points. They don’t always happen in exactly the same order, but it’s quite faithful.
  • Most of the characters are the same, though the show has added some, and definitely fleshed out others. And made some younger and more attractive for the sake of television, I guess?
  • The book does feature a pretty unique epilogue that made it worth reading for me, so that’s fun.
  • Both feature flawed characters. No one is perfect in either medium. No one is all evil, either. There’s such a sense of believability to the whole thing, and I think the flawed, “human” characters are a big reason why.
  • This is mostly a question for others who have read the book: There is a passage about some of the handmaids experiencing… spontaneous lactation? Or maybe a more accurate description is sympathy lactation? Can someone help me, is this a thing?! I have so many questions, help a girl out.

So, why did I like the show better? Let’s discuss!

  • The flashback scenes were so much more emotional, so powerful. While the book did have our main Handmaid (she is unnamed in the book, one key difference in the show) think about her life “before”, she thought about it in a very clinical manner. I get why, seemed like self-preservation, but for June in the show, it’s quite motivating, and maintains her sense of self.
  • Frankly, I didn’t get a sense of who Book Handmaid was. Again, this is probably purposeful in the sense that she could literally be everywoman. But for my personal tastes, I prefer that strong connection to a character, and I had that with June. The other characters, too, were much more fleshed out in the show.
  • The show was kind of gutsier. I feel like I keep repeating myself, but this too makes sense. Obviously, our cultural and societal norms have changed, and I think that the show’s ability to “go there” in some cases is really proof of that. So too is the stronger group of female characters. Not a criticism against the book, just something that I am glad we can see onscreen in 2018 as opposed to 1985.
  • The show has a Season 2! The book ends on one hell of a cliffhanger. Which, rude. And so does the show, in ways. Only… we get another season of the show. And I for one am pretty damn happy.
  • There are tiny (microscopic at times) glimmers of hope in the show. In the book, there were really none throughout, only later in the story.

So even though I loved the show, I still liked the book. Solid four stars or something. But the show blew me away. I’ve wondered if I’d have liked the book better if I’d read it first, and I suspect I would have. But alas.

Have you read the book? Watched the show? Plan on it? Prefer one to the other?

And are there any bookish shows that you have watched without reading the book?

Posted February 17, 2018 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in Bookish Show, Quasi-Review , / 27 Comments

27 responses to “Book Versus Show: The Handmaid’s Tale

  1. I haven’t read/watched this one. Despite my aunt trying to get me to read it for years. I admit, I’m afraid by the dark subject matter.

    I often watch the movie/TV show first, because otherwise I’m just annoyed haha. I just finished the second season of the Shannara Chronicles and I’m debating reading the book, since I liked the show so much. With the Magicians, it’s the opposite. I’ve been planning on reading the books but I don’t like the TV show so now I’m not so sure.

    Nice review. I love adaptation comparisons!

    • It is REALLY hard to watch, I won’t lie. The book is… less awful, less intense, if that helps?

      It’s so funny because a lot of times I end up not wanting to bother with the book- like with The 100, but then curiosity gets the best of me and I give in haha. Which is pretty much what happened here 😀

  2. I feel like a bad bookworm because The Handmaid’s Tale is my favorite book ever, but I haven’t seen the show. I’m so bad at watching TV and movies! I don’t have Hulu, so that doesn’t help. Great reviews! It’s interesting to see the difference between the book and the show.

    • I didn’t have Hulu either, and didn’t want to get it for just one show, but another show I wanted to watch was on there so… I ended up going for it. But I agree, it IS hard to commit to a show, especially when you don’t even have the platform in question! And thanks! 😀

  3. Yeah what is it about this being sort of a classic that turned me off to the book? I was the same way. No real interest until your recommendation, really. I’m using the fact that it was a pretty faithful adaptation to avoid reading the book , though. 🙂 And I agree about the flashbacks… I think SEEING them trying to escape, and the horrors of the takeover, really made it more compelling. But yeah, dark!!

    I watched Divergent before reading the book, even though that’s a different animal. And Hunger games too, now that I think about it, although in that case I wouldn’t say I like the movies better. I do like them, but the books were obviously amazing!

    • HA exactly, no one has time for classics. And honestly, I think the age of the book was one of the biggest problems I had with it? And yeah, you don’t need to read it. If you ever are in a bookstore or something, read the epilogue and you’d be fine.

      Divergent… BWHAHA. That movie was the messiest mess EVER. And The Hunger Games were good, but of course the books were better. It’s weird- with movies I find the books better, but for shows, so far I find the shows better!


    I’ve seen the orginal movie from the 80’s? Not the one you’ve seen, I liked the book way more then the original movie

  5. I cannot bring myself to read a book after seeing the adaptation. Kudos to you for doing it. I just feel like all the major plot points were most likely included in the adaptation, so what’s the point? That’s just me. That is such an interesting observation you made about the differences in our societal norms from when the book was written and when the adaptation was written. I am sure that influenced the script and the way the writers interpreted the original work.

    • YEP, you totally don’t need to. Like I don’t think you’d gain anything from reading the book. Maybe take a quick look at the epilogue, that was the only thing that (so far) wasn’t the same. And it wasn’t really a plot point, it was just… something extra.

      Totally agree about it being a BIG reason that the changes that were made happened- because it IS supposed to be taking place in a pretty close-to-current society, so that DID mean changes, and I like to think they were really positive changes!

  6. This is like weird, cuz I did a similar post and had almost the exact same thoughts. I seriously loved the show, but the book was a but vague. I ca’t wait for the next season to start. Great review Shannon!

  7. I really liked reading your thoughts on this! I agree; I think I prefer the show to the book (but only slightly!). The visual medium really drives this story home and makes it hard to turn a blind eye to some of the more horrifying parts of this world. And I also appreciated how the show developed Serena Joy’s character so much more than the book! All of that being said, I love them both, and the epilogue of the book is definitely one of my favorites. I’m so intrigued about where season two will go!

  8. I haven’t watched the show even though Hulu has been pushing it on me since the show’s inception, but I refused to watch it because I just don’t want to enter that kind of darkness for entertainment purposes. I also wanted to at least read the book before even attempting to watch the show.

    I finally read the book a few months ago, and it solidified my stance on avoiding the show at the present time, no matter how many awards and critical acclaim is heaped upon it. I can only imagine how well the show brings that terrifying dystopia to life!

  9. I could.not. force myself to finish the book. I think mostly because it is so dark without a glimmer of hope. BUT I am about halfway through the first season and I kinda love hating it? In any case, I’m hooked. Thanks for sharing!

  10. The book is one of my faves and I’m one of those annoying people who can get antsy about adaptations so I went into the show with ALL OF THE RESERVATIONS and ended up actually really loving it. I still prefer the book, but I absolutely loved what they did with the show.

  11. I haven’t read the book yet, and I’ve only watched the first maybe four or five episodes of the show because it feels a little overwhelming in large doses (and then I got really busy). But I wonder now if I’ll feel the same about the book. Connection to characters is SO important to me, so I might have trouble not getting to know June well enough. I still definitely plan to read it (and watch the rest of the show), though.

  12. This is a really interesting discussion! I haven’t seen the show yet, but the book The Handmaid’s Tale didn’t really impress me. I read it this month and I kind of expected more from it? And I’m a fan of classics so it was a double disappointment. I definitely found Offred’s flashbacks clinical and generally I felt little towards her as a character. The writing lacked any emotion to grab me, so even though I like some books that are more story than character focused, this lacked both for me. As you said, it shows that she could represent any woman, but idk. I think that could have still been achieved had I understood her as an individual a bit more. Altogether I found the book a difficult to connect to and as a result a bit unbelievable.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the show! I think I’d need to be in the right head space to watch it because as you say it’s quite dark. But I am interested, especially now that I’ve read the book and heard so many positive things from people who didn’t enjoy the book as much either.

    Great post!

  13. I have not read the book, but my husband and I have watched the first episode and are intrigued. We will probably continue to watch the series once the weather warms up. It’s hard to watch something so dark during the winter months!

  14. I read the book back in early college (required reading for an English BA) and what I remembered was that the epilogue implied that despite all Offred’s and other Handmaid’s suffering, nothing changed. Sort of a pessimistic/nihilistic ending. But that was fifteen years ago, so maybe I’m getting it totally wrong. Spontaneous lactation- my understanding from my nursing mother friends is that while you’re nursing, the milk comes when it will, baby attached or no. There are pads you can put in your bra so you don’t walk around with wet rounds on your nipples, but yeah, “leakage” happens normally.

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