Book vs. Show: Alias Grace

Hellooo! I have a lot to talk about, so let’s jump into it.

A couple weeks ago my sister asked if I had seen any new shows recently. I told her that I hadn’t, because I’ve been growing farther and farther away from television – other than Mindhunter on Netflix because that show is GREAT. To which she replied, speaking of Netflix, you have to see Alias Grace, it’s about a servant woman in the 1800s who supposedly killed her masters but has amnesia, so a doctor tries to get her to remember if she killed them or not… and it’s based on a true story.

Well, once she said it was based on a true story I was sold. I’m a history person, and I can’t refuse a based on a true story movie. Hell, I can’t even refuse a documentary.  So I hopped over to Netflix to start watching, but first I viewed the trailer. Well, the trailer said it was based off of Margaret Atwood’s book of the same name. For those who don’t remember, Atwood is the woman who wrote the bestselling book turned series The Handmaid’s Tale. I LOVED The Handmaid’s Tale book – but was lukewarm on the TV show. So I figured, you know what, before I watch the show I’ll read the book.

And holy crap.

I have some pros and cons here, but honestly the book was spectacular, and the show was phenomenal.

Let’s start with the book:

Basically, the story is all about uncovering what really happened the day of the murders. As I mentioned, Grace Marks is a woman who was accused of a double murder, that of her Master Mr. Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery. She was accused along with the stableman, James McDermott. He was convicted of the murders and hanged, spouting his tale of how Grace was not only a willing participant in the murders, but the one who had the idea in the first place.

Unfortunately, Grace remembers nothing of the murders, and despite her testimony from the trial in which she admitted to helping McDermott, she claims her innocence and says that her lawyer told her to admit in order for her to get a life sentence instead of a death sentence, which she agreed to. Flash forward some fifteen-twenty years later where Grace is living in a Canadian penitentiary.

Dr. Simon Jordan, a doctor who deals with the mind (i.e. somnambulism (aka sleepwalking) and amnesia) is commissioned by a local Reverend, who is convinced of her innocence, to come and do a study on Grace to find out what truly happened on the day of the murders.

So, that is the premise of the book. For fear of spoilers, I’m not going to go into detail on what happens in the story because it’s an emotional rollercoaster that is best left a surprise. However, I have some problems with the book.

To start, it’s actually an interesting read. What I mean by that is it’s written very differently from other books, and that made it absolutely enticing and exhilarating, but it also made it very dull and honestly a bit of a slog.

The first 80 pages or so I almost just put the book down and said screw it, I’ll just watch the show. I’m really glad that I didn’t, but I do have to put that warning out there. The book is written basically from three angles:

  1. Grace Marks’ story itself;
  2. Dr. Jordan’s perspective and life whilst in Canada (he’s an American);
  3. Letters between Dr. Jordan, the Reverend, Grace Marks’ lawyer, someone from the insane asylum she was in before the prison, etc.

To be perfectly honest, while the parts about Dr. Jordan, as well as the letters, are certainly integral in understanding what happened to Grace, it was really, truly, a slog to get through. First of all, I had a personal battle when it came to Dr. Jordan because sometimes I liked him and other times I wanted to punch him in the face, which made it very difficult to read his sections of the story. Second, the letters were fine and all, but seeing as it did all happen in the mid 1800s, the letters reflected the writing style of the time, which is to say: super formal. For me, it was really only interesting to a point, and I found myself skimming certain paragraphs to get to the good stuff.

However, Grace Marks’ part of the story was PHENOMENAL. I was on the edge of my seat throughout the entire story, and thought that Margaret Atwood did an absolutely spectacular job at creating a fictionalized version of the woman, and in really reflecting the problems and social structure of the time period.

Now for the TV mini-series:

Here’s where I have some problems, not because the show wasn’t great, because it was. But because I think the show was both better and worse than the book itself.

To give you an idea – every single thing (minus a couple liberties) that is shown in the series is almost exact to how it happened in the book. That is so rare!! It was actually really surprising to me at first, because I wasn’t sure how they were going to fit everything in, but they did it spectacularly. The scenery was great, the acting was great, the clothing was spot on, even certain scenes were almost exact to how I pictured it in the book. Everything aligned perfectly. And even the little liberties they added didn’t subtract from the story, it actually added to it.

However, my problem is not what they added but rather what they left out.  The book talks about so many more little things that were heart wrenching that I couldn’t believe they left out. This is where it gets tricky for me, because if I think about it, those little heart wrenching scenes didn’t actually need to be in the show in order to understand what happened, but at the same time I can’t see how it would have hurt the series to have included it.

You know how sometimes you watch a movie and you leave it thinking “you know, if they had taken out 30 minutes of crappy exposition in that movie it would’ve been perfect?” It was almost the opposite for me. Those little, almost trivial, pieces of the story may have been viewed as trivial exposition, but they were all something that I felt lifted the story into a higher plane of artistry rather than hindering it.

Keep in mind, almost everything that I’m thinking of that I feel should have been added would probably have only taken up about 3-5 minutes within the show itself, and almost always the series actually did bring it up at some point within the show, they just didn’t spend that much time on it (and in some cases it was literally only mentioned in one sentence and then never spoken of again). So it’s not like these were big plot points that they didn’t bring up, it was just flavor text that I absolutely loved within the book that was not there in the series.

Overall: READ THE BOOK FIRST!!!!!

I have one big favor to ask of you: If you plan on reading the book AND watching the series, read the book first!!!!

Why, you might ask? Because those first 100 pages are going to be boring as hell for you. The show really jumps right in to the action, which is great, but it means that your expectations are going to be that the book will jumps right in as well, which it does not. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t read this book, because I actually think that reading the book in conjunction with watching the show is amazing because the book gives you a LOT more information than the show does and really does pique your interest. However, if you plan on watching the show first, keep in mind that it is extraordinarily different in terms of language, and for some people that will be a deal breaker.

All in all, though, I honestly think the book and the show are tied here. Both have their faults, but both have amazing pieces to them that the other does not have. The two of them paired is something outstanding, and I highly recommend that you enjoy BOTH of these in that order: book then show.

Let me know what you guys thought of both the book and the series – I’m really curious to hear your opinions. As always, if you want to contact me please feel free to comment down below or to e-mail me at rachel@booksandcleverness.com!

Until next time,

Rachel

e-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com

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Book vs TV Series: The Handmaid’s Tale

Hey guys! As usual, I’m sorry it’s been for-fucking-ever since I posted last, but I think I have a pretty valid excuse: we bought a townhouse! So I’ve been really busy, I’m trying to get acclimated, and get my doggy acclimated (harder than it sounds), and I just started school again. So, that being said, with all the craziness going on, I’ve managed to read a book!

Now I’m sure you’ve gathered this from the title, but I read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I have to be honest, I’ve heard of this book before, and have seen it in passing and book stores my whole life and never had a desire to read it until I saw a trailer for Hulu’s new original series of the same name. I was listening to Britney Spears radio Pandora (like there’s any other station, amirite?) and a REALLY short commercial came on, because I’m not paying for that “no ads” shit, that basically said something like, ‘My name is Offred. But I had another name, once, in my other life – but I was asleep then. Now I’m awake.’ or something like that and I was like SAY WHAAAAAAAAT?? So naturally I bought it immediately.

And I’m really glad I did. This book has it all. It’s interesting and intriguing from the first page to the last (particularly the last), but it doesn’t go overboard. What I mean by that is that a lot of books, especially books set in dystopian societies, tend to want to cram too much information in there. It’s like the author needs to give an explanation for why certain things happen a certain way, and while I fully agree that authors should give you information, I don’t always believe they should give you all of the information.

There are some books, like The Martian, where more information is needed because most of the readers aren’t fluid in botany, engineering, or frickin’ space travel, But some books, like Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA by Tony Mendez (the real-life guy that Ben Affleck played in Argo) that overloads you with information. I really, genuinely, honestly, do not give a fuck about all of these acronyms – I understand that a lot of government branches have long names and they require acronyms, but do you really need to bring up like twenty different branches throughout the first fifty pages and then NEVER bring up what the acronyms stand for again? I mean seriously, I was flipping through the book like four times a night trying to figure out what the hell branch of government he was talking about at any given time. I respect you, Mendez, you done good in Iran, but chill the fuck out with the acronyms.

Anyway, Atwood does a fantastic job of giving you enough information so that you know it’s sinister, or enough information to know what’s going on or what could happen, without blatantly expressing such. The novel is expertly written, it ebbs and flows back and forth between past and present, and captures the horror, complacency, terror, and understanding that come with being a Handmaid, and a person, in this society.

While I definitely could have used another 40 pages or so of information, she does offer an “Historical Notes” chapter at the very end that I found interesting, and definitely food for thought.

I will say this: if you don’t like kinda gross, but not gory details, don’t read this book. But if you love women fighting back, if you love the power and strength that women can conjure even in the hardest, darkest, and most oppressive of times, you will love this book.

I’m actually mad at myself that I never picked it up sooner, because to me it’s fantastically empowering. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum!

Now, as for the TV show…. it’s aight. *shrug emoji*

Before I continue: I’m only three episodes in, so this review may be inaccurate after I watch a few more episodes, but so far I find this show fun, entertaining, but only somewhat accurate to the book, with a few small issues hidden in there too.

Look, I’m never one of those people that thinks it needs to be exact to the book. The only time I get upset is when a movie (or in this case a TV show) changes the facts of the story. For example, I was upset when the Burrow burned down in HP and The Half-Blood Prince. I completely understood that it was for action in an otherwise non-action-y time in the movie, but the Burrow didn’t burn down in the book! The biggest problem I had with that was just the complete lack of accuracy. They could’ve just had a fight at the Burrow – that would have made sense – but to burn down the house meant that in the following movie the Burrow needed to look different than it had the previous five movies, which completely threw me off as an audience member. Now obviously that’s a small example, but honestly those are the kinds of inaccuracies that bug me in this show.

They’ve changed little facts. Like in the book we don’t know what happened to Luke, but Offred mentions he’s dead in the first or second episode (not a spoiler at all, though, guys – it happens like 30 seconds into the show). We never know Offred’s real name because her name is supposed to be a treasure and secret that’s just for her, but in the show we know it’s Jen. In the show Serena Joy is not only seemingly much younger, but also does not have the slight handicap she has in the book, and doesn’t even seem very resentful, and actually seems somewhat pleasant most of the time. The Commander as well has dark black hair in the show, but they make it a point to say that he has grey hair in the novel.

Now, okay, am I being nit-picky? Yes. But isn’t that what I’m here for?  I mean, if the question is: Is this a good, entertaining, interesting show? Then the answer is undoubtedly yes. Yes yes yes. But if the question is: Is the show basically the book but in show format? Then no. They’ve added things in, like Ofglen’s story, and they’ve taken things out, like Serena Joy’s background. Also, is it just me or do the characters seem a little disconnected from one another.

Like Nick and Offred obviously have some kind of tension between them, but Nick isn’t as flirty or sarcastic, or even as douchey in my opinion, and Offred isn’t as snarky back to him. In fact I’ve barely seen any of that and that was some of my favorite stuff from the book.

But I’ll be lenient here. I understand that they’re not making a movie, they’re creating a series and that needs to span at least twelve episodes, and from what I’ve heard they’ve been renewed for a second season. So I guess you can’t really take a 300 page book and turn it into 24 hours. Also, I will admit that I’m still early in the game: from my experience, shows start to pick up around the three episode mark, and I’m about five minutes into episode four, so maybe I just need to give it more time.

So, my final thoughts? Read the book. It’s absolutely incredible. The writing is phenomenal, the imagery is spectacular, and it’s just truly extraordinary, ESPECIALLY in today’s society, with all the crap that’s going on, and this patriarchal thought process that says women are just toys to be played with, have no say over their own bodies, and anything that goes wrong in their lives is directly caused by them and not any extenuating circumstances (*cough cough* sexual assault).

As for the show, it’s a very interesting, fun show to watch. It’s not fun in the traditional light-hearted sense, but it’s an entertaining show that keeps my interest. Have I watched better shows? Yes. Am I hesitant to watch more because they’re 57 minutes long? Yes. But if you have the time, and you like extra drama, then this is perfect for you.

But I still highly highly highly recommend the novel. I think it’s something any feminist (and don’t start on me with the feminist term, I understand people misuse it, abuse it, and use feminism as a crutch. But I’m just a traditional feminist who just genuinely wants women, and people in general, to be equal and treated equally, with the right to do whatever they please with their own body – no shaming involved! That, to me, is exactly what feminism represents, and I will use the term as such) needs to have on their bookshelf. If for no other reason than to empower yourself when you read it.

And for any man interested in this novel – good on you! I’m 100% sure that you’ll enjoy this novel, and if you don’t let me know and I would love to hear why. I think this is a great book for men to read, again, if for no other reason than you can get into the mindset of a woman who has no control over her situation and body. I’m also of the belief that the more you’re enthusiastic to learn about new topics, or topics that may not directly affect you, the more prepared and better off you’ll be for life in general. Education is a wonderful thing!

Okay! That said, I will try to continue watching the show and if I change my mind on any of my opinions stated before I just might write an edited review, so if you’re interesting in keeping a look out for that post or any other articles I write in the future, follow me! You can add your e-mail address to the box on the top right, and you’ll get a notification every time I post on here!

In the meantime, if you have any opinions, comments, or questions, please feel free to comment below or to e-mail me at rachel@booksandcleverness.com

Until next time,

Rachel

E-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com