Review: The Testaments

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up my copy of the book at a Margaret Atwood live event, during which she talked euphemistically about the book and why she wrote it and about her opinions on the world as a whole today. That undoubtedly colored my perspective as I read this book: I had heard Atwood’s motives and insights from her own lips, how could I be a fresh reader now?!

Of course, I loved seeing Atwood speak. She is charming, and effortlessly brilliant, and cute as a button. Her talk also convinced me that she really had written The Testaments because she wanted to, not because some TV exec had twisted her arm as I had feared.

I was not the kind of fan who desperately wanted a sequel to Handmaid’s Tale; I think the story stands up exceedingly well on its own. But will I welcome more writings by Atwood, now that her work has captured public attention? Obviously!

The Testaments is a different story; start with that. It is set some years after Handmaid’s Tale, when Gilead is firmly established and hardening in its ways, showing cracks. Handmaids are barely in the story at all, kept to the fringes of polite society. We follow three characters, including former villain Aunt Lydia. The other two offer contrasting looks at youthful views on Gilead, from both within and outside, which is an interesting comparison.

Testaments fleshes our Gilead—perhaps too much. I’m disappointed in that I anticipated all the twists and big reveals. But the book is still captivating and gives me much to think about. Atwood’s writing is inherently poetic and enthralling. And you have to wonder: facing serious hardship, is there a chance YOU would be an Aunt Lydia? Or are you meek and accepting? Or just a loudmouth teenager who has never faced real adversity?

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