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.
‘Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.’ – Margaret Atwood
“Keep your friends close but your enemies closer. Having no friends, I must make do with enemies.”
I went into this with slight trepidation, I’m sure I’m not the only reader who did! Up until a few days ago I wasn’t even sure if I was going to read it. Could Margaret Atwood really create a sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ that would please readers (and critics) and that would be as good? Well, dear readers, fear not! She has. In fact, dare I say it, I think I actually enjoyed ‘The Testaments’ more!
Atwood has given us three voices this time – Agnes, a young woman approaching marriageable age who has been brought up in Gilead. Daisy, who has grown up in Canada with Gilead a distant and baffling concept. And Aunt Lydia, who readers of ‘The Handmaids Tale’ will already be well acquainted with.
I found Agnes’ story particularly fascinating and infuriating, she is thirteen and being prepared for marriage. If you thought ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ made you angry, just wait until you read about Agnes’ life. I’m pretty sure steam was coming out of my ears when I read her sections, they left me seething! Aunt Lydia has been humanised in ‘The Testaments’. We see much more of her past and how she was treated when she first arrived in Gilead. I came to like her which caused me all kinds of moral conflicts because she is so vile and detestable in ‘The Handmaids Tale’.
I found ‘The Testaments’ utterly gripping, there were many times it felt like I was reading a thriller. I was on the edge of my seat, my fingernails bitten down to nothing. There were also some huge revelations, which I won’t go into, but they also made me unable to leave this book alone.
It’s impossible to review ‘The Testaments’ and not talk about ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ TV series. I wondered whether they would be treated as two completely separate elements or whether there would be cross overs. The latter occurs. Atwood very cleverly weaves everything together, events from the show are seamlessly worked into the novel and everything comes together in a very, very satisfying way. If you haven’t read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, but enjoyed the show, then you can easily still enjoy ‘The Testaments’ and not feel you’ve missed anything. And vice versa if you haven’t watched the series.
As with ‘The Handmaids Tale’, ‘The Testaments’ absolutely terrified me. These things could happen and in fact have happened in some places, Atwood was inspired by true life events. I recently read a fascinating and chilling article about the events that inspired her to write this. It just takes one maniacal person with a smidgen of power to make these kind of things happen and doesn’t that just make your blood run cold?
No one will ever deny Margaret Atwood’s ability to tell a story. She has a way of saying things that are so profound, so important and so moving using just a short sentence. I nodded my head in fierce agreement many times reading this. ‘The Testaments’ is powerful, important and timely. There are cynics out there that have questioned it’s release, but it’s a story that needed to be told and it’s told by voices that needed to be heard. Incredible.
“Beneath its outer show of virtue and purity, Gilead was rotting.”
‘The Testaments’ is out now in hardback published by Chatto & Windus.
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