The Republic of Gilead is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, two girls with radically different experiences of the regime come face to face with the legendary, ruthless Aunt Lydia. But how far will each go for what she believes?
Length: 435 pages
I’ve been trying to read The Testaments since it came out, and I’ve finally gotten to it. I loved The Handmaid’s Tale when I read it for the first time a few years ago, and while I was sceptical about this sequel, I was also looking forward to seeing what all the hype was about.
The Testaments doesn’t follow Offred, the main character from The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m not sure how much time has passed between the end of that first book and this one, but it can’t be too much as Aunt Lydia, one of the antagonists of The Handmaid’s Tale, is still around to tell her story in The Testaments.
Aunt Lydia is actually, for me, the most interesting character in The Testaments. As she’s presented as an antagonist in The Handmaid’s Tale, we have a negative impression of her. But Atwood gives her a voice in The Testaments to explain how she came to be who she is in Gilead. We are taken back to the founding of Gilead, and we see the early events described in The Handmaid’s Tale from a different perspective. Much like Offred, Aunt Lydia wasn’t given any choice in the role she was to play in Gilead. Atwood confronts us with the truth that when it comes to survival adapt how we must in order to stay alive.
The two girls that we follow, one inside Gilead, one outside, felt pretty interchangeable for me. Their characters were lacking something to make them individuals, which is unusual in my experience of Atwood’s writing. I felt that by showing us the world outside of Gilead, in some ways Atwood took away from The Handmaid’s Tale. I can see how by placing Gilead almost in the ‘real world’ Atwood is strengthening her point that this could happen in our world. But from a narrative/story point of view, I felt that it detracted from the atmosphere of the world she created.
The Testaments as a whole doesn’t add a lot to The Handmaid’s Tale and its message. It’s an interesting story, and I’m glad I read it. But it didn’t have the same impact on me that The Handmaid’s Take did. I think that’s partly because I was familiar with the world going into the book, so nothing really shocked me the way it did the first time around. I think that everything that needed saying Atwood said in The Handmaid’s Tale.
It’s a good read as an addendum to the first book, but otherwise, it doesn’t add anything revolutionary.