The Testaments

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The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

By Margaret Atwood

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15 reviews

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Margaret Atwood’s dystopian masterpiece, The Handmaid’s Tale, is a modern classic. Now she brings the iconic story to a dramatic conclusion in this riveting sequel.

More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.

Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.

As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

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Reviews

16 Oct 2019

EmmiM86

Excellent read, very engaging and provided a lot of insight into the previous story of The Handmaid's Tale and why things were the way they were in Gilead.

I liked the writing style in terms of the different view points that were shared with the reader and the fact that they were written in different styles was very interesting and that in itself helped to develop the characters in my mind.

From originally reading The Handmaid's Tale aged 18 to rereading that book alongside this one aged 33 my perceptions of the themes have completely changed in those years due to me now having much stronger political and ethical stances and because of changes on the world stage.

I found the biblical references throughout the story interesting particularly the reference to the Shunammites.

Overall I really enjoyed reading this book and believe it is a valid contender for this year's Booker Prize Award.

15 Oct 2019

Joscott

Read as part of the Booker Prize shadowing with Bolton Bookworms.

As someone who really didn't enjoy The Handmaid's Tale, I wasn't looking forward to this. I expected more drudgery, more hopelessness, more utter bleak misery.

I was, mercifully, wrong!

The story, told by three different voices, has pace, intrigue and excitement. Perhaps, some committed THT fans will miss the intimacy but I found the three threads fascinating. Attwood uses very clever nuances and parallels with our 2019 world but in this book, there's hope!

A story with complex characters not shadowy figures.
Really enjoyed it.

15 Oct 2019

NiriaF

I read this with Bolton Bookworms tracking the Booker prize. We read the Handmaids Tale the previous month and until then I had never read anything by Margaret Atwood or watched the TV adaptation. I really enjoyed both novels although the Testaments felt less shocking than THT and was a little like it was tying up loose ends to ultimately give the TV series an end point too.

It was interesting hearing about Gilead from different perspectives especially Aunt Lydia who I got to like more through this novel as there was more understanding for her motivation.

14 Oct 2019

LaurenAlergant

As a huge fan of The Handmaid's Tale the book as well as the TV series I was excited to read this book.

Margaret Atwood skilfully weaves a tale about how life is like for women in Gilead 15 years after the original book.
I particularly liked finding out more about Aunt Lydia and how she came to be part of the regime and later subverted it.

It was interesting to see how girls who didn't remember what life was like before accepted what they were told initially but some were able later on to question it.
I found this a fast paced read with many interesting plotlines. The characterisation was well done.
My only critique was that the ending seemed a little trite and that she wanted readers to get their happy ending however would recommend to others.
I red this book as part of Bolton Bookworms reading group and we had free copies via The Reading Group.

13 Oct 2019

AnnaG

Read as part of the Booker Prize shadowing with Gloucester Book Club.
The Testaments is a genre novel sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, with a too neat ending. Its pages of exposition and head-hopping narrator make it a fractured, slow read to begin with, until the plot takes over and I was curious enough to find out what happened.
The best of the book lies with Aunt Lydia, who is the most developed and complex character, and with her we can question how we would react in similar dehumanising circumstances. Chilling enough in its exploration of how one half of the population becomes subjugated, and the fragility of democracy is highlighted by the ease with which it is overturned.
A good read but not in the same league as The Handmaid’s Tale.

07 Oct 2019

Clareboucher

Before starting ‘The Testaments’, I reread ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. It had been a long time since I’d last read it, and I’d missed the TV series, so I thought this was a good idea. In retrospect, I am not sure it was.

Reviewing the book on its own merits is not easy. Thanks to the extraordinary levels of marketing hype and its pre-publication appearance on the Booker shortlist, the weight of expectations was huge. The first thing to say is that this is a different kind of book from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. It’s pacier, and I think that’s an area where the influence of TV drama is apparent. Atwood uses multiple narrators, in contrast to the single perspective of the earlier book. Arguably this gives a broader view of Gilead as a society, but for me this was at the expense of the suffocating terror of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. However, Atwood does answer some of the questions I had about how Gilead functioned, and I appreciated that.

The great strength of the book for me was the narration of Aunt Lydia. I was disappointed when we momentarily left her story and wanted to return as soon as possible. This is one of the most plausible accounts of how a repressive regime co-opts potential resisters and prompts the reader to question what they would do in similar circumstances. Towards the end of her narration, Aunt Lydia says:

‘How can I have behaved so badly, so cruelly, so stupidly? you will ask. You yourself would never have done such things! But you yourself will never have had to.’

The other narrators are teenagers and their voices are less distinctively captured. There are aspects of the plotting in their stories which are signposted so clearly that the big reveals lose impact, while others seem implausible. I was unconvinced by the ending. I would have found this a more satisfying book if there had been more Aunt Lydia.

I read ‘The Testaments’ with Gloucester Book Club, as we were fortunate to be chosen by The Reading Agency as one of the groups shadowing this year’s Booker Prize shortlist.

06 Oct 2019

Sophie Rayton

As a fan of Margaret Atwood and the Handmaid's tale, I was excited that a sequel was coming. For me, it did not disappoint and I thought it a satisfying follow up to the original story. In The Testaments, we learn more about the rise and fall of Gilead and get to know an interesting back story. I would recommend this book to most people, but would suggest reading The Handmaid's Tale first to get the full experience.

06 Oct 2019

teamfullerton

I read The Testaments with Gloucester Book Club as part of our Booker Prize shadowing project, thanks to the generosity of The Reading Agency. I have not read The Handmaid's Tale and my knowledge of the earlier classic is limited to the recent TV series.

So, for me, this was essentially a stand-alone read and I enjoyed it as such: I learned enough of the horrors of Gilead from the three testimonies, or testaments, which comprise the "story".

I particularly enjoyed Aunt Lydia's testimony, her decision to ensure survival by cooperating and infiltrating the highest level of the Gilead regime. Her story challenges us to consider "what would we do?" and whether we are really so different from the perpetrators of evil in totalitarian regimes like Gilead. It was also chilling and timely to recognise features of Gilead in parts of our own world.

A thoroughly enjoyable, thought-provoking and challenging read, paradoxically this has left me curious to read The Handmaid's Tale itself and spend yet more time in the hell of Gilead!

05 Oct 2019

Susie D

I came to 'The Testaments' having not read 'The Handmaid's Tale' nor seen the TV series. As a stand alone Dystopian drama it does well. It is well written, fast paced, interesting and exciting. I was pretty hooked from the start. The themes are relevant to today's world and really made me think; Gilead is not that far away. I cared about the characters and what happened to them even though it was fairly obvious in what direction the story was going. I loved the Pearl Girls, plot device though they may be. The 'explanation' at the end seemed rather unnecessary, however, and somewhat took away from the book for me. I think I would have been more satisfied without it. It is though a book that will stay in my thoughts for a good while. Now nipping off down the bookshop for a copy of 'The Handmaid's Tale'.

05 Oct 2019

Acaller

I was extremely excited to read this after avidly watching the TV series and then reading The Handmaid's Tale. It didn't disappoint me and I enjoyed watching the unravelling of Aunt Lydia's backstory. It left many questions in my mind about what I would do in the situation. The manoeuvring she did in order to grab power from the men was very satisfying.

I was glad to learn about Daisy/Nicole - the TV series set me up to care about the character and her bravery had echoes of her mother.

Agnes was the character I enjoyed the most though. The vivid descriptions of her childhood and the way she was being treated left me feeling very uncomfortable and scared for her well being.

Overall, the book was satisfying in that loose ends we're tied but less shocking and ground breaking than the original.

I'm looking forward to discussing the book with my group this afternoon.

04 Oct 2019

CwjH

The Testaments is not strictly speaking a sequel to the Handmaid's Tale, although I think it is not feasible to read it outside the context of the earlier book. At times it is a prequel in that it describes how Gilead was set up in the early years and how Aunt Lydia carved out an unassailable position of power. The style of The Testaments is quite different to the first book: it is lighter in tone (even includes some black humour), lacks the oppressive despair of Offred's tale: rather it portrays hope, escapism, subterfuge and avoids the claustrophobia of a Handmaid's life. It's scope is broader. The reader learns about the Marthas as well as the young girls who are destined for marriage. It is much more positive, devotes a fair amount of text to people, places and events outside of Gilead: it encourages the reader to believe Gilead will fall. Having read the Handmaid's Tale the reader is less shocked by the scenes of hanging and torture, less disappointed in the absence of sisterhood.

The Biblical references are numerous, some of the Aunts assume names that make impudent reference to famous names of cosmetics and haute couture, there is a tendency to tongue in cheek comments by Aunt Lydia. The few male characters are depicted as monstrous or stupid, there is little reference to Handmaids: this is a story about the Aunts, as well as those who chose to be become Aunts, and wives or those being trained for marriage.

The narrative is undertaken by three different characters: Aunt Lydia, Agnes and Nicole. Aunt Lydia steals the story, she is the person who dominates the book. Nicole is the least convincing character. This book is plot driven, at times encased in the theme of thriller or adventure escape. One disadvantage is that the twists of the plot are signposted too clearly and too early. The ending of the book was the biggest disappointment: it is implausible, overlaid with "feel good happy ending". It will never have the impact of its predecessor.

04 Oct 2019

DianeJ

I read The Testaments the second time with Gloucester Book Club, who are lucky enough to be shadowing the Book Prize shortlisted novel thanks to The Reading Agency. Having loved The Handmaid's Tale I was a little apprehensive about how a sequel could compare to the original, fearing that it would just be a re-write of Offred's tale with a different protagonist. But the superb Margaret Atwood is a better writer than that. This is a complementary story exploring how Gilead came to fall, along with fleshing out its creationary process. The setting is well drawn, updating Gilead for a world now familiar with the Taliban and Jihadi brides. The focus of the book is the Aunts, especially Aunt Lydia, and we see the one-dimensional monster of the previous book now rounded as a subversive. We understand that she is a survivor, a smart girl who pulled herself out of her trailer-trash hardscrabble childhood world of abuse, poverty, and low expectations to become a judge, then architect of Gilead's rise and fall. Atwood's language is sharp, sly, and funny. I particularly liked the names the Aunts had chosen - these creatures in drab brown robes are named for cosmetics, fashion, underwear, soap, all subtly undermining the message. The ending is perhaps the only weakness, I could have done with a little more ambiguity rather than the monument.We hope for a happy ending and let our imaginations fill in the gaps. For this reason I gave it 9 1/2 rather than the full 10. But a tremendous book by a writer still at the top of her powers.

03 Oct 2019

Leet_p

I read this as part of the Gloucester Book Group and our discussion gave me an even better insight and increased the pleasure I gained from reading The Testaments. It’s not just a sequel, it’s a prequel and really makes you question how easily Gilead could happen. There are so many beautifully powerful snippets and prose within this book that make you stop, re-read and think. ‘Growing older, older enough for a wedding’ is chilling in its simplicity and loaded underlying message. I wish we had been left a little more in suspense with the ending and with more questions than answers about what happened to the characters that have had such a lasting impact. While I will never like Aunt Lydia and still question her motivation and willingness to play the long game - this book does make you think again about what part you might play in changing the politics you find happening around you.

03 Oct 2019

Barry Faulkner

I read this as a member of Gloucester Book Club, who are shadowing the Booker prize.

Not having read the Handmaiden’s Tale I came to this book as an Atwood ‘newbie’. It took a few chapters to get into the gist of it and the swapping time frames was a detraction for me. It was an archetypal potboiler and I must admit to being a little bored by the concentration on the females and the classification of nearly every male as ‘bad’. Atwood also seems to have a thing about male appendages. The writing was, of course, well crafted if not a little repetitive and as an ex script editor my red pen would have been in use a few times. Looking at every scenario from two diverse points of view, ie a girl and an aunt or two aunts was well handled and made this reader keep attentive. It really started to motor when the girls ran away leaving the reader wondering was it a set-up, was Aunt Lydia a ‘sleeper’ and was Baby Nicole being used and if so by who? The escape was pretty basic and a pursuing Commander would have been good for the excitement, especially when the boat’s engine failed for no apparent reason. The girls' reunification with their mother at the end was too low key and I would have liked to have had a final twist involving the mother, it was just too simple but the many twists and turns along the way kept this reader's attention.

22 Sep 2019

Christina58

Read with Gloucester Book Club, as part of our shadowing of this year’s Booker Prize in collaboration with the Reading Agency. I’m a big fan of Margaret Atwood. The Testaments, the sequel to Handmaid’s Tale, does not disappoint. If you’ve read Handmaid’s Tale, you’ll already know the world she creates! The Testaments is split between three main voices, Aunt Lydia, Agnes Jemima and Daisy. It was fast to read and even better on audio, with the wonderful precision of Aunt Lydia’s voice. It’s a gripping and compelling read, well paced and resonates as a book of our times. It’s poetic and horrific, with touches of humour. Nominated for this year’s Booker, it’s not trying to be too clever with fancy or wordy phrases. Atwood says she believes the world needs hope. With the rise of populism, if you read the news you will understand why she’s chosen now to write the sequel.

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