Review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
As they say, history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.Margaret Atwood – The Testaments
I have loved reading ever since I learned how. As a child, I loved to be read to by both of my late grandfathers, I read anything I could get my hands on, and I started a pretty healthy book collection even when I was young, thanks to my family. I’ve loved books my entire life. When I was in high school, I took honors English classes and decided to take AP English my senior year. When I got my class schedule the first day of school in 12th grade, my friends and I saw that we were in AP English, but we did not have the teacher that we expected to have. Mrs. Hanna was a surprise to us that day but she ended up being one of the few teachers I’ve had that changed my life. Her love of literature and the way that she taught us to read and write about it ignited a passion for reading that was far beyond what I expected. She taught incredible classics that year, but the one that will forever stand out in my mind is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
To this day, I can confidently say that it is still my favorite book of all time. I’ve always loved dystopian novels but something about the way this was written was special. It’s so dense in prose and somehow beautifully and viscerally gets to the essence of what it is like to experience life as a woman. Published in 1985 by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale quickly became a classic. Set in the not-so-distant future, it gives us a glimpse into what could happen if the country was taken over by a theocracy where women have no rights. America is no longer, and Gilead has taken its place. Women’s only purpose is to bare children in a society where birth rates have plummeted. Fertile women who are unmarried or have what the government has deemed as “moral stains” are forced to serve the men of the upper class as handmaids. They are ritualistically raped every month by the Commander of their household in the presence of the Wife in order to bare children for the family. Our narrator through this terrifying journey is a handmaid named Offred who gives us deep insight into the mind of a woman who is held captive in a world that only values her ability to produce children. I can never praise The Handmaid’s Tale enough. If you have made it to this point in your life and haven’t read it yet, stop what you’re doing and get your hands on a copy.
In 2017, to my absolute surprise and delight, Hulu released a TV series based on the novel. I was skeptical because this is my favorite novel of all time. But when I watched the first episode, I was absolutely blown away. The care that the show makers have taken to give the viewers such a beautifully, terrifying experience is true art. Now the first season of the show ends with the end of the novel. The show has now completed three full seasons and is already hard at work on season four (Praise be!) which means that they have moved beyond the original novel. Now, I’ve ALWAYS wanted to know what happened after the end of the novel, but I wanted to know what Margaret Atwood herself would write.
Well last year I found out that we would get just that: The Testaments. I was ecstatic. I had always longed for a sequel but I truly never thought we would get one. I had countdowns set for the September 10th release date, I pre-ordered my copy, and bought tickets to my local theater to watch the live interview with Margaret Atwood from London. When the book was released, I could not wait to get to my local bookstore to pick up my copy after work, so naturally, I also purchased the audiobook so that I could listen on my commute and all day at work. Once I was off work, I drove over to Barnes & Noble to pick up my copy and read during any spare moments I had. Between listening to the audiobook and reading whenever I could, I finished that 415-page-long book in less than 24 hours.
Without spoiling plot for either book, The Testaments is told from the perspectives of three different women: Aunt Lydia, a woman in the upper ranks of Gilead; Agnes, a young girl brought up in Gilead; and Daisy; a girl that was raised in Canada. The three different perspectives offer a wider range of voices and experiences in relationship to the theocracy that is Gilead. The story of The Testaments takes place fifteen years after the end of The Handmaid’s Tale so we are truly able to see how the society has evolved, grown, and developed. I have never anticipated and craved a book like I did with The Testaments. But like many highly anticipated novels, there is the possibility of disappointment. While I have only waited ten years, many have waited 34 years for this book.
Overall, I loved The Testaments. Having the opportunity to dive back into Margaret Atwood’s world of Gilead and her beautiful prose was what I craved, and I was so grateful for it. The thing that I hoped to get out of the book was a greater understanding of the foundation and inner-workings of Gilead as a régime and Atwood definitely delivered in a beautiful way. Now, some of the writing felt slightly juvenile, but I got the feeling that it was intentional given the age of two of our narrators. The thing that surprised me the most was that there were huge plot points taken from the later seasons of the TV show that ended up in the books. I never in a million year would have expected her to do this. Now with that being said, I don’t think you have to watch the show to understand The Testaments, although I HIGHLY recommend the show! I think both novels and the show can stand on their own. I recommend The Testaments to fans of Margaret Atwood and fans of The Handmaid’s Tale. If you are hoping for a perspective similar to Offred’s and pacing similar to the original novel, you will be disappointed. The Testaments is much more fast-paced and plot-driven than The Handmaid’s Tale. But if you are hoping to gain a better understanding of Gilead and the world-building aspect of that society, you will love The Testaments. While I know many readers were severely underwhelmed and disappointed with this release, it was exactly what I hoped to get out of it, and for that I am grateful that Margaret Atwood is still with us and was able to release this highly anticipated sequel to one of the greatest classics of all time.
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