Title: The Testaments
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: Literary Fiction, Dystopian
Publisher: Chatto & Windus, Penguin Random House
Publication Date: 10th September 2019
More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.
Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.
As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.
I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in my higher English class and I wasn’t hugely enamoured by it – probably because we had to analyse it over and over! However, when I reread it as an adult a few years ago – I got what all the fuss was about. I was both nervous and excited about finally reading The Testaments after months of build up and I’m pleased to say that, for me, it lived up to my very high expectations. The last time I remember there being so much excitement and hype about a book’s release was when the Harry Potter books were at their peak and it’s been really lovely to see that a book release can still be such big news!
The Testaments has a different feel to The Handmaid’s Tale in my opinion. The Handmaid’s Tale was quite oblique in a way. It was relentless in it’s harshness but also vague in many areas and it is consistently difficult to decipher exactly who knows what and why. The Testaments is much clearer and much more hopeful. It still portrays the horrors of Gilead but there is the sense that those horrors may be on their way out and that the resistance is stronger. I can see some people finding this more hopeful tone an unwelcome departure from the brutal reality of The Handmaid’s Tale, but if I’m being totally honest I actually really appreciated it. There is so much upheaval and unrest in Britain at the moment and so much depressing news all over the world and it was really good to read a book where I felt like there was a message of resisting tyranny and overthrowing evil.
That is not to say that The Testaments is as straightforward as good versus evil in any way. The best part of the book is that one of the narrators is the fearsome Aunt Lydia and her chapters are frankly incredible. I think it was a master stroke to give such a terrifying character a voice and making the reader genuinely quite uncomfortable as you question what you would do in Gilead. It’s easy to say you would fight against the regime but when it really comes down to it I’m not sure it’s as simple as that at all. Choices are very rarely that black and white – there are always shades of grey in morality.
Overall I think The Testaments is a much more accessible book than it’s predecessor and really quite different in tone but I think it’s a genuinely compelling read. I couldn’t put it down and raced to finish it. The Aunt Lydia sections are compulsively addictive and I could read another whole book just about her. The two other narrators, whilst perhaps not quite as overwhelmingly interesting are still fascinating and flesh out the story beautifully. I don’t think it will please everybody but for me it was a fantastic read!