Book review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Somehow, describing this as the ‘long-awaited sequel’ doesn’t quite cover it. I’ve had this on preorder for MONTHS. As I’m sure you know, The Testaments is the follow up to the enormously successful, and worryingly prophetic, Handmaid’s Tale – the story of a dystopic America, where a huge swathe of the country is under the control of a totalitarian government that has removed the rights of woman to exist as individuals. (Seriously, if you’ve never heard of this book then I think you may be on the wrong blog).

The Testaments carries on a few years after the last book left off, delving deeper into the world of Gilead from the point of view of women living within it, and outside. It’s not the same literary horror story we saw in the first instalment (or indeed, the tv series), so I don’t think it carries the same shock value I remember from reading The Handmaid’s Tale, though now I get less of a sense of ‘this could happen!’ and more of a sense of ‘I think it already has.’

The writing is much lighter, with less of the literary flair we saw in June’s account of her life as a handmaid. What does come across is the hypocrisy of the entire Gilead setup, and the sense that many of the original characters (Aunt Lydia in particular) are perhaps just as much victims as the handmaids; they were just better survivors.

The characters are brilliantly portrayed, and the dialogue is punchy and keeps the book moving at a fairly relaxed pace, until the last part of the book where the chapters shorten and things start to really get moving (I’m trying not to give too much away here).

Did I enjoy it? Immensely, though if I’m honest, I don’t think it carried as much weight as the first outing. Maybe I’m just a little jaded, I don’t know … But thanks to the original, I think this book will still represent an important testament to the modern age that carries an important lesson for all of us. Gilead happened because the people were complacent. Now look around you …

Eight out of ten.

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