A Word In Your Ear

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May 05, 2017

Infamous weeper, Emmy winner and Homeland badass Claire Danes is voicing a special edition of the audio book of The Handmaid’s Tale. Yes, this book again, but bear with us.

What is interesting is that its release coincides with a new US Hulu TV adaptation and includes bonus material from the academic footnotes that feature in the novel but rarely, if ever, in TV adaptations. It is this latter point that is significant. The book is a first-hand narration of the day-to-day, frankly awful life of a ‘handmaid’. The reader is treated to a barrage of intimate violations through the eyes of the narrator at the hands of the state. By the end of the ‘book’ the reader is left wilted and disturbed. What follows are a series of academic footnotes that are written as though this is a historical text that has been found and is being examined.

The footnotes serve two purposes – they call into question the validity of the narrator (something that every literature course tutor the world over loves to tell their students to do anyway) in order to further diminish her voice and increase her victimization, and it assaults the reader all over again by making the text seem more like a genuine historical document.

The reader is left reeling: ‘Could this actually happen in real life?’ So powerful are these academic footnotes at the end, and so integral to the book, that it seems inconceivable that they are rarely, if ever, dramatized when the book hits the screen. This is because they just don’t sit comfortably with a visual dramatization. Their tone, pace and setting are so different from the book that to go from a scene where people are escaping from government troops with forged papers and stolen vehicles to the somber quiet of an academic lecture is too jarring.

They may not sit comfortably with the visual dramatization, but they nestle in perfectly with an audio one. The book is a first-hand narration so it reads as though someone is speaking directly to you, confiding in you, whispering in your ear. The footnotes too seem as though someone is speaking directly to you, both voices are intimate and powerful. This is something that is always lost when you see a movie or TV version and it makes the audio version truer to the book than movie or TV series could ever be.

In our blog Audiobook All-Stars we noted that autobiographies are an obvious choice for audio books – especially if they are narrated by the actor, sports star or politician that they cover, but there are many, many books where the same is true. An audio version is often closer to the text and lends itself to a dramatization far better than a movie or TV series. Isn’t it strange then that these have for so long been the preferred mediums? and how fantastic that the audio book is finally having its day in the sun.

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