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.

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Coming soon …

Seems like quite a long time since I wrote a novel. The last one was The Quisling Orchid way back when.

Since then I’ve been fiddling with screenplays, writing short stories, winning competitions (ahem) and working with the fine fine people who make up my local writers group.

But I have been working on one book for a while now …

A couple of years back, my mother became very ill. She always enjoyed reading when she had the chance, but during her final year, she preferred having either of her sons read to her. Since she couldn’t really concentrate on a full length novel, I started writing a collection of linked short stories, so I could read her each chapter as I finished it.

Sadly, my mother passed away before I could write the last few stories. I didn’t feel like carrying on with it, or writing anymore, for that matter, so the novella languished inside a laptop for a couple of years, and I sort of turned my back on writing.

I’m not sure why I picked it up again. Would love to say I had some sort of otherworldly epiphany, but it wasn’t that exciting. While sorting out my mother’s effects, we found a stack of handwritten papers: the beginnings of an autobiography. It was deeply moving and beautifully written. I had no idea she could write. I mean, when I talked about my writing, she never mentioned it.

Now I think about it, maybe it was an epiphany. Anyway, I dusted off the novella with a plan to self-publish it (for free if I can figure out how) before the end of the year. Sort of a tribute to my Mum.

Coming soon …

Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz

There’s two thing that I like about these new James Bond books over the movies.

  1. They’re set in the past, which gives them a nice nostalgic feel: the heroes smoked pipes and cigarettes, the villains were stereotypically Russians, and the women were … not always the helpless creatures that writers of the time made them out to be.
  2. Getting inside Bond’s head you get to see that he’s actually a bit of a dick.

Trigger Mortis takes us back to the late 1950s. Naval war hero and British Secret Service agent, James Bond has returned from the successful completion of the Goldfinger assignment with the svelte innuendo that is Pussy Galore in tow. He hardly has time to start sniffing around for a new bedmate when his country has need of him yet again, this time to foil a sinister plot involving race cars, Russians and rockets.

Okay, there’s not going to be any surprises plot-wise: the villains are stereotypical for the age it’s set (Horowitz picks the Russians and a Korean) and Bond is … well, he’s Bond. The story is extremely well placed: Horowitz captures the feel and the attitudes of the time so well that the misogyny and occasional Gay-bashing just slots straight in. This is a good thing. Things were a lot different in those days, and Bond’s letching over women and mistrust of homosexuals was pretty much the norm.

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