Karen Haber Reviews The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel by Margaret Atwood, Adaptation and Art by Renée Nault

The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel, Margaret Atwood, adaptation and art by Renée Nault (Nan A. Talese 978-0-385-53924-1, $22.95, unpaginated, hc) March 2019. Cover by Renée Nault.

Just when you think you might have had enough of Offred and the twisted, rape-based Republic of Gilead, along comes the brilliant graphic novel adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s classic story The Handmaid’s Tale.

Artist Renee Nault, selected by fellow Canadi­an Atwood, has painted and drawn a remarkable achievement in watercolor: a faithful rendering of Atwood’s story, filled with visual impact and con­fident style. Influenced by the repeating patterns and shapes in Japanese Ukiyo-E prints and the large-eyed facial expressions of anime, Nault’s artwork is both delicate and sinewy. Her expres­sive yet stylized faces reinforce the notion that the handmaids have no official individuality when out in public. They may have anime-informed faces, but there is nothing innocent about these images, or this story. Nault remains faithful to the underlying text while utilizing some visual elements from the award-winning TV version, including the iconic handmaid’s blood red robes and white masking bonnets.

The artist takes a creative approach to panel storytelling, breaking the frame, carrying motifs over from one page to the next, ranging from full color to black and white and grey for doleful memories. The greyed-down palette allows the blood-red of the handmaid’s robes and assorted blood spatters to really pop. Nault has rendered this terrifying fairy tale in chapters featuring both beautiful and terrifying images.

The 240- page graphic novel is a heroic achievement by a single artist. Doubleday’s Nan A. Talese imprint has gone all in on this deluxe volume, from the hardcover binding to the em­bossed lacquered image of Offred, resembling a blood-red teardrop on the matte black cover. Thick glossy paper and hardcover binding with board covers add ad­ditional quality. The subtle endsheets with their creepy faded rose/floral/anatomical patterns further set the grim mood of this book. It’s a re­markable achievement by an artist and a publisher.

This review and more like it in the February 2020 issue of Locus.

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