The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Published: 1st April 1998 (print)/2nd June 2011 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Anchor Books/Random House
Pages: 314/10 hours 23 minutes
Narrator: Joanna David
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

I’m glad I finally read this and it’s clear this is a classic for a reason and stands the test of time because the issues it touches on are ongoing and remain as important as they did in the 80s. I was drawn in by this story and I’m glad it lives up to its reputation, I was equally fascinated and mortified by so much throughout this book I have no doubt that was Atwood’s intention.

It is a powerful move to make Offred remember her life before. It would have been easier to have this society be this way for so long no one really remembers the before times, but having it in living memory of someone relatively young is a beautifully horrifying choice and makes this so much more powerful. This is always seen as a dystopian story but the events fall so close to being possible it’s unsettling. It’s not quite in the dystopian world of nuclear fallout or environmental collapse, it is a construction of society and men and at times relatively close to reality it’s not too far to imagine it actually happening.

Atwood doesn’t need to infodump on us about what happen in full chronological details. She weaves information and history through Offred’s flashback’s and natural story. It never felt like we were being explained things, but at the same time what we don’t get told is also part of the fun. You can see it unfolding and the clues coming together, while still remaining in the dark about so much. I loved the inclusion of the Japanese tourists. It reminded me of a post I had seen on Tumblr about what the rest of the world is doing while the United States is having its dystopian dramas in all these books and movies. It’s little details like this that help shape the world Offred is living and the society that has been formed.

The audiobook was an amazing experience, especially given the ending and Moss did such a great job in telling this story. She was very good at putting contempt and distain into her voice, she was also skilled at incorporating a natural voice for Offred: fluid, casual offhanded remarks if they had just come to her, uncertainty and worry. I felt like I was listening to this woman’s story.

Atwood lets you create your own conclusions, better or worse about what happened. There is hope but there is also a sense of acceptance and leaving it to the reader is a powerful move. I actually loved not having answers. I won’t spoil what is and what isn’t told, but it was a great way to stay within the narrator’s world, and not to provide easy answers for the readers. It played into the emotional mindset of Offred, and to have it make sense as the story she was telling, not an outside view for us to know everything. Her story no doubt is for those who already know a lot, this is her own experience, retelling her story through what has happened, the reader picks up snippets here and there but the broader tale is known and meant to be understood by the fictional players which is a brilliant move.

You can purchase The Handmaid’s Tale via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

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Blinky Bill and Nutsy (#3) by Dorothy Wall

Published: 1937 (print)/05 June 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Angus & Robertson/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 156/2 hrs and 56 mins
Narrator: Julie McGregor
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

While telling the adventures of Blinky Bill, a naughty little boy in the form of a koala, the stories also present messages of conservation. Blinky Bill is known for his mischievousness and his love for his mother. In general throughout the stories he does things that are realistic for koalas as well as things that child readers would like to do. Dorothy Wall tells the stories directly to the children and Blinky often interacts with the readers in an introduction. Her dedications are often to ‘All the Kind Children’, with her own son Peter and other common Australian names of the 1930s appearing. The books are also fully illustrated by Dorothy Wall herself.

The third and final Blinky Bill book brings the adventures of the rambunctious koala to an end and introduces a whole new set of characters to get to know. Gone are the days of the same few characters, now there’s a heap of new names and creatures to get to know. If you’re like me and grew up in Australia in the 90s, you will recognise many of these characters from the television series, the difference is the story is not the same at all.

Wall has turned this simple bush story into a strange tale about animals behaving more and more like humans in ways that don’t even make sense. It’s gone from animals with a society but still behaving like animals to a complete anthropomorphising of these characters with chequebooks and boarding houses, hair getting put in rollers and the need for potato bins. They are now living their lives like humans but in animal form.

From waxing lyrical about the wonders of zoos at the end of book two, Wall opens book three showing us the animal abuse suffered and the desperate need to escape. The inconsistencies are annoying to read about, especially when there are so many contradictions not only in previous books but in the same story. The established society had changed so much and with new characters it was like a new story starting from scratch.

This time Nutsy joins Blinky on his adventures around the bush as she is the new addition to his family. Found lost and alone Mrs Koala invites her to stay and soon she is out adventuring with Blinky. With new friends like Splodge, Nutsy and Mr Wombat there is a consistency in the tales as these faces pop up again and again. Blinky has adventures around his home with the same mischief causing approach, angering various animals, helping others, and there’s the standard chapter where he and his friends make their way onto human land and cause chaos.

I know coming at this almost 100 years later will skew any interpretations but I can see how this would have been received by kids and parents when it was first published. They would related to Blinky being a naughty boy and getting into trouble as well as Mrs Koala’s frustrations. The fascination with Australian animals they may have seen near their homes or not see at all would be delightful, a long tradition seen with English literature coming to an Australian setting. It would also be a way to gain sympathy for these creatures, I can see Wall’s attempts at trying to sneak in references to helping them after fires and treating them like wild animals but it is quite subtle.

For all its faults from a modern perspective it was interesting to see the original story and the adventures of Blinky and the mischief he gets up to. Even though the audiobooks are three separate stories, the physical copies are always a collection of all three together. Listening to the audiobooks back to back was like reading the collection but it also made me realise the changes between each book. McGregor does a good job as narrator and the voices and tone she uses suited the style of writing. I missed out on the illustrations Wall had done scattered through the pages but looking at my paperback copy they are simple and are more decorative than anything else. As a classic it reads as such and it’s a good source material to gain inspiration from which is why Blinky Bill is still as captivating today.

You can purchase Blinky Bill via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Blinky Bill Grows Up (#2) by Dorothy Wall

Published: 1934 (print)/05 June 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Angus & Robertson/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 150/2 hrs and 31 mins
Narrator: Julie McGregor
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

While telling the adventures of Blinky Bill, a naughty little boy in the form of a koala, the stories also present messages of conservation. Blinky Bill is known for his mischievousness and his love for his mother. In general throughout the stories he does things that are realistic for koalas as well as things that child readers would like to do. Dorothy Wall tells the stories directly to the children and Blinky often interacts with the readers in an introduction. Her dedications are often to ‘All the Kind Children’, with her own son Peter and other common Australian names of the 1930s appearing. The books are also fully illustrated by Dorothy Wall herself.

After coming home to his mother after the last batch of mischief, Blinky has gone out adventuring again and he meets a whole host of new creatures. Wall has changed her approach with this story completely. While the first book kept the animal more natural, this one tends to stray into the anthropomorphising area. There are lucky dips and bazaars, and while the animals are still animals, they start participating in more human type activities. 

The koala culls are still underway, it is mentioned that 200 000 of them have been shot which explains why there are none left in the area. Again, no idea why, if there was a mention of the need for it other than fun it would still be terrible, but Wall makes it sound like they are culling them just because they can. Especially given the description of the killing of Blinky’s father in book one. Strangely enough Blinky himself is now not immune to killing. He easily advocates for killing other animals and even has animals killed himself for trivial reasons but is horrified when humans do it and sees it as unjustified. 

There is not real sense of how long Blinky has been gone on this round of adventuring, whether it is a few days or weeks, Mrs Koala seems happy to have him back each time though regardless. The Australian animals are on show once more, though Wall includes a hedgehog (though the illustration is of a porcupine) instead of an echidna which was curious. But possums, bull ants, goannas and lyrebirds all get to be on show. There’s also introduced species like foxes and rabbits who get their own part of the story too.

Where Wall starts to lose my understanding is when she informs the readers that koalas are happy in the zoo. This is part of the story where she breaks the fourth wall and address readers directly. The narrative style has always been one where Wall is telling Blinky’s story to a reader and even with this shift the tone remains the mystical lyrical style that brings you into Blinky’s world, but it also tells readers that instead of being happy in their natural habitat koalas love being at the zoo. She then contradicts herself by telling readers not to kidnap the koalas from the zoo and keep them as pets because they need to be surrounded by their bush, and yet my understanding is, being in the zoo, a 1930s zoo on top of that, is hardly any better.

There’s a lot more confusion with this second collection of stories than the first. Blinky still goes on adventures but they feel less connected. It jumps all over the place and it’s jarring to go from animals running a fundraising bazaar to Blinky orchestrating vengeance on predators to Blinky causing mischief at a farm to back in the bush meeting friendly animals like birds and hedgehogs. Granted this story has been strange from the start, but by the end it turned into a strange propaganda about zoos and animals and I was glad to be finished.

You can purchase Blinky Bill via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Blinky Bill (#1) by Dorothy Wall

Published: 1933 (print)/05 June 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Angus & Robertson/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 100/2 hrs and 3 mins
Narrator: Julie McGregor
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

While telling the adventures of Blinky Bill, a naughty little boy in the form of a koala, the stories also present messages of conservation. Blinky Bill is known for his mischievousness and his love for his mother. In general throughout the stories he does things that are realistic for koalas as well as things that child readers would like to do. Dorothy Wall tells the stories directly to the children and Blinky often interacts with the readers in an introduction. Her dedications are often to ‘All the Kind Children’, with her own son Peter and other common Australian names of the 1930s appearing. The books are also fully illustrated by Dorothy Wall herself.

When I say I have wanted to read this series for almost half of my life I would not be telling a life. I remember gazing in wonder at the huge, illustrated hardback collection at the bookshop and wishing I had the money to buy it. Even when I eventually bought the much smaller, cheaper paperback it still sat on my shelf for years waiting for me to pick it up. Now that I have read the stories, I’m glad I can tick it off because it is quite a unique, strange collection and yet one that has captured the hearts of people all around this country given he is still popular and being reimagined for kids today.

First published in 1933 the time period is evident in Wall’s writing style and the events in this book. The notion of Australian animals is a fascination and similar to May Gibbs with the Gumnut stories, telling stories of “the Australian bush” was the way to go. We’re introduced to Blinky after he’s born and how the animals around comment on him, watch him get named, and then, in a weird turn of events see him being nannied by a wallaby and almost get eaten by a snake. Why a newborn koala is being taken from the tree to the ground is not even the first question, the better one is why his mother can’t raise him herself. But such was the times I suppose and Wall is reflecting human behaviour onto these animals.

To give her some slight credit, Wall doesn’t overly anthropomorphise the animals. There is a group that live around the tree and are neighbours, animals hunt and are preyed upon, and we see Blinky’s early life. He is cheeky and mischievous, the iconic red “knickerbockers” on him from a young age.

Wall doesn’t hold things back either, there is a proper depressing description of the death of Blinky’s father in the first chapter, one told from both his perspective and the others. Definitely something I wasn’t expecting. It isn’t graphic, but it is rough to listen to. As Blinky grows up and explores the bush we see more of the animal life and the balance with humans and see the tense relationship between them.

Blinky has always been portrayed as being cheeky, but he is a lot rougher and harsher in the book. He hates his neighbour, he also runs away a lot when he doesn’t get his own way. The “reality of bush life” is through this story, Wall obviously wanted a cute tale about the Aussie bush creatures but it isn’t quite as cute with hunters culling koalas for no reason and animals preying on others, but it also has a simplicity about it where Blinky comes across various Australian animals and having brief encounters with them. Wall’s Australian knowledge only goes so far as Blinky’s mother is called Mrs Bear for most of the book until it switches to Mrs Koala and Blinky is called a cub not a joey, but given the actual weirdness in the story that part I might forgive her for.

You can purchase Blinky Bill via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson | Project Gutenberg

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 3rd October 2006Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon Schuster
Pages: 32
Format: Paperback
Genre: Classic
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

One dollar and eight-seven cents is all the money Della has in the world to buy her beloved husband a Christmas present. She has nothing to sell except her only treasure — her long, beautiful brown hair. Set in New York at the turn of the twentieth century, this classic piece of American literature tells the story of a young couple and the sacrifices each must make to buy the other a gift.

I had two roundabout introductions to this story: the first was in Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, the second was the Simpsons episode entitled Grift of the Magi. It wasn’t until I actually read the book though did I realise that is was Sesame Street was referencing with their adorable Bert and Ernie side story, and while I knew the name, I never knew what it was about.

This is an incredibly quick read, it is a short story but one that has a lot of impact. Henry draws you into the era with the language and the descriptions. You also see the love and devotion that Della and her husband have for one another and it is a testament to the writing that such a short story had impacted on the cultural psyche.

There’s the beautiful Christmas spirit and the love of a young married couple to entice you as you read. It’s an incredibly sweet story and in a way Della gets a raw deal, but that is taking away a bit of the magic. It is simple but heartfelt and there is a wonderful Christmas feel to the book.

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