THE HANDMAID’S TALE Graphic Novel Review: Quintessential Near Future Horror

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The Handmaid’s Tale was written by Margaret Atwood

Art & Adaptation by Renée Nault

The Convention Collective received a review copy of the title.

The Handmaid’s Tale was required reading for me in high school, though my classmates and I were all told to stop reading at a certain chapter. Of course, that lead to myself and all of my classmates reading the book in its entirety. I found it horrifying over 10 years ago, and perhaps more so now. Too many examples of injustice in book feel all too real now that I have unfortunately experienced some. I don’t want to dwell on the pertinent political resonances here, though they are many and varied. Instead, I want to talk about the ways that the graphic novel format suits this story of horror and social injustice.

The art in Nault’s adaptation is linework and watercolor. At times this combination creates an almost woodcut look, and I found myself thinking of Junji Ito’s horror manga on a few pages. The watercolor lends itself perfectly to a lot of the metaphor and symbolism in the story. Women in this version of America, now known as Gilead, are prized for their wombs. As a result, there is a fair amount of talk about blood, pregnancy, abortion, & miscarriage. The unexpected appearance of blood is a starkly negative thing in Gilead. A lot of pages are filled with colors bleeding into each other, or simply fading out to white. It carries the thought of a single drop of impurity spoiling something pristine through the entire book.

One of the things that I found myself ruminating on more in my read of the graphic novel than I did on the prose is the sense that everyone in Gilead has given up. The Soul Scrolls, I think, are the key example of this. There is a chapter named after them, and they almost seem like a throwaway feature of the story. Residents of Gilead pay to have Soul Scrolls write and say their prayers for them. I wrote an entire paper about how they mimic a lot of organized religions in our time, and I think they mimic the futility of many of the systems in Gilead.

Many residents of Gilead know that suicide is a common issue, but also seem resigned to the fact that it will occur. Many know that the Handmaids are treated unfairly, but do nothing to help. People know that there is no God listening to their prayers, and yet they pay to have a machine repeat them on a loop in the hopes that things could get better. Nothing in Gilead works at optimum efficiency, but because there are no alternatives people accept what they are told is best.

It’s easy to see that Gilead is a horrific world. It’s easy to say that we’ll never see a world like that. However, it’s also easy to see how some of the global events leading up to the creation of Gilead have already happened. As a woman, I fear for the continuation of my bodily autonomy on a daily basis. If you love the novel and love the show, I would highly recommend picking up Nault’s adaptation! It’s a beautiful and succinct summation of what makes Atwood’s book so scary and so powerful.

THE HANDMAID’S TALE Graphic Novel is now available.

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