The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: A review


I'm not sure why it took me so long to read this book. I think it had something to do with my reaction to the television show based on The Handmaid's Tale. I watched the first season and found it interesting enough, but then as the second season veered away from the book, I couldn't take it anymore and I stopped watching. Thus, my mind just wasn't ready for a sequel to the book, especially if it was going to be anything like the television show. But finally, I guess curiosity got the better of me, so here we are.

The Testaments comprises the statements or testimony of three women: Aunt Lydia; a young woman called Agnes Jemima who grew up in the nightmarish misogynistic authoritarian state of Gilead; and another young woman who was born in Gilead but whose mother managed to smuggle her out of the country and into Canada where she has been raised. We eventually learn about the connections between these three women.

Aunt Lydia's testament is in the form of a memoir that she wrote and concealed for many years. It is essentially a mea culpa explaining how she, in fact, came to be "Aunt Lydia," the forces that made her who she is.

Agnes Jemima tells of how she was raised by a Commander and his wife, whom she believed to be her parents. It was only after the wife died that she learned that she had been stolen from her birth mother when that woman was forced to become a Handmaid.

The girl raised in Canada likewise was raised by a couple whom she thought were her parents. But then the couple, who had been active in a resistance organization called Mayday that operated a kind of Underground Railroad to help women escape Gilead and resettle in Canada, were killed by a car bomb detonated by Gilead agents and the girl learned that she, too, was the daughter of a Handmaid who had contrived to get her to Canada when she was only a baby. For all the years since Gilead has been searching for her. She is known to them as "Baby Nicole," their lost child.

The Testaments is constructed as a thriller. The Resistance is hard at work in its efforts to bring down the state of Gilead, which comprises most of what used to be the United States. (The Republic of Texas has separated itself and the West Coast continues to resist.) They are aided by Mayday and also by a traitor within the state. This traitor acts as a spy and passes along information to Mayday. We suspect early on who that spy may be, but it isn't confirmed until well into the narrative.

Atwood tells her story with very broad brush strokes. The narrative is very accessible, witty, and well-paced. It is a feminist document without being the hard work that such documents sometimes are and it has the potential to appeal to readers who might ordinarily balk at the idea of reading a feminist book. It is a straightforward and thoroughly satisfying tale of how women manage to bring down the patriarchy. It was a welcome pick-me-up from the gloom of the daily news and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it!

My rating: 5 of 5 stars 

Comments

  1. In recent years Margaret Atwood has really become a force on the world literary scene, which is all well and good, but best of all she is a dedicated naturalist and bird watcher!

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  2. Thank you for the review. I hadn't heard of this one so it was welcome to read about it.

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  3. Excellent review again!! I am now more eager to read The Testaments. It may be awhile before I get to it though with all of my other books on hand waiting to be read.

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    1. I can relate. Books sometimes sit in my TBR file for months (like this one did) before I read them.

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  4. I'm glad you liked this one so much. I thought in some ways it was better than Handmaid's Tale.

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    1. It certainly had a more hopeful outcome, something to hang onto in these dark times.

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  5. Well, this is a load off my mind. I was hoping you would read The Testaments and even more, I was hoping you would find it good. So many lovers of The Handmaids Tale had a bad reaction. Not me and now I know, not you!

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    1. Yeah, after I read the book, I was looking at some of the reader reviews on Goodreads and thought, "Wow, they must have read a different book than I did." I actually think waiting a while to read it gave me more perspective on it and by the time I got there, I was ready to receive it.

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  6. I think that The Handmaid’s Tale is a brilliant buy disturbing book. I have not yet read this. I think that I will reread the Handmaid’s Tale first. I almost feel that I must steel myself to the experience as these books can be disturbing.

    I think that those who do not want to read a book because it is feminist or whatever label people want to put on it makes little sense. A worthy book is a worthy book.

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    1. "A worthy book is a worthy book." True and well said.

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  7. I have not read either book, but I do know the frustration and irritation of shows or movies veering too far away from the book!

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    1. The tv show runners' imagining of what happened after the book ended was completely different from mine, so it just felt wrong and I had no patience with it.

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  8. I only watched season 1 of the show too. I agree The Testaments to me lived up to the hype. I thought it was a good sequel and wrap up to the original ... which I admit too I was skeptical about. It was on my five notables list for 2019.

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    1. I suspect it will be on my favorites list for this year.

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