Book reviews

The Testaments is Margaret Atwood’s much-anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. If you haven’t yet read The Testaments and intend to, be warned that my review may contain details of the story that you might prefer to discover for yourself.

The story begins about fifteen years after Offred, whose narration made up The Handmaid’s Tale, tried to escape Gilead. In The Testaments the story is told by three narrators, Aunt Lydia, who also appeared in The Handmaid’s Tale, Daisy, a teenage girl living in Canada and Agnes, the teenage daughter of a high-ranking Commander in Gilead. At the time Gilead and Canada were fighting over possession of Baby Nicole, an infant who had been smuggled out of Gilead many years ago.

Aunt Lydia’s story surprised me most. In The Handmaid’s Tale, she was the most powerful and feared of the Aunts, whose role it was to train the handmaids. The Testaments explains her background in her own words. Before the onset of the regime which caused her to lose all of her rights she was a respected judge. Along with other women of her age, education and status she was imprisoned and treated in a dehumanising manner before being given the opportunity to become an Aunt in Gilead, the only position a woman could hold and keep some autonomy over her own life in the new regime.

In contrast, Agnes had been born in Gilead and knew of no other way of life. She had a loving relationship with her adoptive mother but was thrown adrift after her death. When Agnes’ adoptive father remarried, his new wife had no affection for Agnes and brokered a deal for Agnes to marry the highest ranking Commander in the regime. Marriage to Commander Judd would have brought enormous prestige for Agnes and her family but was not without risk for Agnes as Commander Judd had previously married several very young women who had later died in mysterious circumstances. Surprisingly, it was Aunt Lydia who came to Agnes’ rescue by suggesting that the girl had a vocation to become an Aunt, which over-rode the marriage plans.

In Canada, Daisy was growing up in a way most girls in a contemporary Western world would recognise. Daisy studied Gilead’s current affairs in school but was unaware that her adoptive parents were involved in Mayday, an organisation that smuggled women out of Gilead. After her parents were murdered Daisy was smuggled away by Mayday operatives who told her she was Baby Nicole and as such had been hidden from the government of Gilead who were demanding her return.

The Mayday operatives convinced Daisy to return to Gilead as a spy. They taught her to fight and gave her some tips on how to manage, then sent her off as a convert to the regime while keeping her identity as Baby Nicole secret. When she arrived in Gilead, Aunt Lydia took Daisy under her wing and tasked Agnes with looking after her.

Aunt Lydia is by far the strongest character in this story and I would have liked to read more of her story and less about Agnes and Daisy, although their stories were vital to the plot.

For anyone wondering what happened to Offred after her attempted escape and what caused Gilead to fall, The Testaments has the answer. Most of the loose ends were tied up, possibly a little too neatly. The story is also enormously entertaining but for me it didn’t have the emotional punch of The Handmaid’s Tale, which was of course an extremely hard act to follow.

Comments on: "The Testaments by Margaret Atwood" (16)

  1. Haven’t read either of them but in general I think it’s often a mistake to have a sequel so long after a first book, especially one as loved as The Handmaid’s Tale, which fans have been dissecting and speculating about for years. Glad you thought it was entertaining enough to make it worth reading, though!

  2. Great review! I agree that maybe the loose ends were a bit too neatly tied, but that means there won’t be another sequel. I probably wouldn’t be interested in another one.

  3. I haven’t read either of these, although I did see THT on T.V., but this sounds more exciting than I was expecting!

  4. Rose, you have achieved something that no one else has done: you’ve got me to read a review of this book! 😆

    I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale twice and although I didn’t dislike it and could appreciate the writing, it has convinced me (along with a few other Atwood books over the years) that I really don’t enjoy her books or her style. And I certainly didn’t enjoy the hype around this one. Atwood appears to have attained some goddess-like stature and it really turned me off. So I avoided all things Atwood until now – when it wasn’t until I had finished reading and thought ‘that doesn’t sound too bad’ – that I realised what had happened! 😆 I took the bait; you reeled me in!

    So the question is: can I wriggle off the hook?! 😂

  5. I agree. I think in years to come readers will continue to discuss THT as if it were a stand-alone. The sequel was entertaining but I haven’t thought about it at all since I wrote my review.

  6. No, I think I’m done with this story now too. Probably the author is too!

  7. We’re opposite to each other as I haven’t watched THT yet. I’m hoping too soon.

  8. I don’t think I really enjoy Margaret Atwood’s books either, they too often leave me feeling uncomfortable and generally out of sorts, but when she is at her best I can’t stop thinking about the questions her stories raise. She is the most fearless writer I’ve ever read.

    So, will you or won’t you?

  9. THAT is the question! I do agree with you though – she is fearless and the questions she raises are formidable. So…. maybe…. if I happen to come across the book one day. But I can’t see myself actively seeking it out.

  10. The more I think about The Testaments, the more I think it was workmanlike. I haven’t thought about the story or any issues the book raised since I finished it, so although I’m happy to have read it and satisfied my curiosity about the story, I don’t think you’ll miss much by not reading this, especially since you’re not a great fan of Atwood’s books.

  11. Fearless is exactly the right word, I admire that and that’s what makes me read her (or used to) I found for every one I loved the next I found very uncomfortable. I’ve had a few years off and I think I could try her again now!

  12. Yes, Margaret Atwood’s books are better when they are spaced out. I’d like to try some of her non-fiction next.

  13. I had forgotten there was non-fiction! after seeing a documentary about her I should think it’s very good.

  14. I might have too look out for that documentary too. I imagine Margaret Atwood would be a fascinating subject!

  15. I’m afraid I can’t remember anything about the title but it showed her as a girl living a spartan life with her parents, it was fascinating.

  16. I’ve found something called A Word After A Word After A Word is Power, which might be what you saw. I’m hopeful of being able to watch it on an ‘on demand’ tv station.

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