The first season of “The Handmaid´s Tale” – a tv-series based on a novel by Margaret Atwood from 1985 – has just been premiered on Swedish television.
I think the series is extraordinary: a dark dystopia that you won´t forget. Women are reduced to bodies in the land called Gilead, they aren´t allowed to read or to walk around freely. Elisabeth Moss plays the role of one of the “Handmaids” – a group of still fertile women in a time where pollution and wars have made many women and men sterile. The handmaids are servants, owned by their “Commanders”, and their only role in life is to give birth – hopefully – to the children of their Commander.
Still following the series on Swedish tv, I started reading the novel “Chanson douce” by young French author Leila Sl
imani. This is another story focussing on reproduction, biology and maternity – but also on class, racism and social issues. Here, the secret lives of Nannies living in Paris is under investigation. Who are they? Where do they come from? The main character in the thrilling story is a middle-aged woman with, as it seems, no history and no private life. She simply loves her upper-class family with their two children, and what a blessing she is! She cooks wonderful dishes, she cleans the house, she takes care of the children and she works overtime day after day without complaining. What should they do without her?
But then, petit á petit to use a French expression, the reader gets to know the Nanny´s life, and we realize that something is wrong. Very wrong.
“The Handmaid´s tale” and “Chanson douce” are good examples of female writers examining and analysing issues related to maternity. Atwood and Slimani are brilliant story-composers, and they don´t give you oversimplified answers to difficult questions. But they do indeed ask important questions about society and about what kind of a world we want our future children to inherit.