***** (SPOILERS AHEAD)
WHY I CHOSE IT: I read ‘The Handmaids Tale’ around ten years ago and I’ve loved the world of Gilead ever since. The TV show has kept the story fresh in my mind and I think it’s a wonderful adaptation. Therefore, when Margaret Atwood was jointly awarded the 2019 Booker Prize for ‘The Testaments’, I knew I had to read this sequel straight away.
THE PLOT: ‘The Testaments’ features three main characters that we see briefly in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. It’s impossible for me to review this without a couple of (tiny) spoilers, so do forgive me and stop reading now if you don’t want to know the plot outline.
The events of the novel take place after the original and depict Gilead, the dystopian patriarchal society, falling into decline. The book is structured using witness testimonies and transcripts, so the main characters narrate the events in the past tense. Indeed, as in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, the novel ends with future historians analysing the contents of these “artefacts”.
The plot is largely orchestrated by Aunt Lydia, who brings together Offred’s children, Nicole and Agnes, to share documents that reveal many secrets about Gilead society and eventually contribute to its downfall. The novel is fast paced and exciting, with lots of tension and danger that made me speed through it.
MY RATING: This book receives five stars because I was thoroughly engaged in the story throughout. I’ve seen some fair criticisms that it didn’t deserve the Booker Prize because it wasn’t unique enough and didn’t meet the same standards as ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. Although I agree that it didn’t have the darkness or level of foreboding as the previous work about Gilead – presumably because the reader doesn’t get to uncover the rules of the dystopian society – I enjoyed it so much that it wouldn’t be fair to give it a lower rating.
My main criticism of the novel would be the character of Aunt Lydia. I felt that the author was trying to show how an educated, professional woman could fall prey to authoritarian rhetoric through coercion and, ultimately, the desire for self-preservation. However, I felt like the novel was apologising for Aunt Lydia’s actions. Additionally, her backstory and level in society didn’t quite fit with what was shown in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. I would have preferred Aunt Lydia’s character to be more conflicted in her devotion to Gilead, showing her true belief in its values and ideology, but not in its execution. I believe this conflict could have added more depth to the novel by exploring the theme of how conviction in one’s beliefs can lead to distasteful actions in the name of rhetoric.
Overall, I felt the plot was well structured and the balance between Agnes and Nicole’s characters worked well. In some places it seemed as if Nicole’s segments read like a young adult novel, but I liked this change in voice.
FAVOURITE QUOTE: “No one wants to die,” said Becka. “But some people don’t want to live in any of the ways that are allowed.”