The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
A disclaimer before I begin – I read this book very quickly, and these are my first impressions. And there are minor spoilers below, so if you’d prefer to be a blank slate for this book, read no further!
The Testaments has been pitched as one of the great literary events of 2019, with a hugely hyped marketing campaign, a strict embargo, and even a pre-release Booker Prize shortlisting. All of this excitement is totally warranted: this is a fantastic, immersive book that will have both Atwood die-hards and lovers of the TV adaption of The Handmaid’s Tale under its spell.
The Testaments is set around fifteen years after The Handmaid’s Tale. This return to the world of Gilead has three narrators: the infamous Aunt Lydia, a Canadian teenager who comes to learn she was actually born in Gilead, and a young woman from a well-off family who narrowly escapes being married off to a Commander by becoming an Aunt instead. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments is styled as a collection of historical documents (and yes, we do return to the post-Gilead academic conference setting!), consisting of witness statements from two characters, and an illicitly written manuscript by the other.
Atwood has always said that nothing went into the creation of Gilead that had no precedent in real life, and she echoes this sentiment in the author’s note at the end of The Testaments. This is a dystopia with a strong anchor in reality – climate crisis, religious extremism, and deadly misogyny are all evils that negatively influence the world we’re living in today. But while undoubtedly dark, this is a much more hopeful novel than its predecessor. I won’t give too much away, but the revolutionary spirit of Offred carries over to The Testaments. I would go so far to say that, in its own odd way, this is quite an uplifting novel that bolstered my feminist heart.
I genuinely loved this book, and I’m going to have to go back and read it again more slowly, more carefully, and with more attention to Atwood’s delightful writing (although even read at speed, her superb handle on voice and character is unmistakable). This is a sequel that delivers, and is actually, truly unmissable.