Margaret Atwood wrote the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale 30 years after its publication. The Testaments gets 3.5 stars from me. This is something I should have also addressed in my first blog: I will be THE FIRST to admit that I’m a pretty lenient rater. I’m getting more critical as I get older, but I also prefer to critique than tear down. Ya wrote a damn book, and that’s fucking awesome. You should get some praise just for that! Other people are harsher raters than me and that’s completely fine.
So… Was this book needed? Not for everyone. The thing is… with the state of our world, for some people, this will offer relief. For some people, it will be exactly what they needed. Atwood could have been more cruel to her characters in this book, but Handmaid’s Tale covered that. This book offers hope in the face of tyranny and doesn’t spotlight the abusive techniques used as heavily as it did in HT. June, Nicole, and Agnes are the beacons of that hope. Aunt Lydia offers that hope. Somewhere out there, people are brave enough to start the revolution. People are able to attempt atonement for their wrongdoings by setting the world onto a better path.
This book most certainly has a different tone than Handmaid’s. Not AS dark. It should have a different tone though, in my opinion. Testaments isn’t June’s story. She had very little reason for hope in her telling of Handmaid’s Tale, and so the gloomy tone suited the story. This was told from three POVs. One: Aunt Lydia’s, which is fascinating, as we have been exposed to all of the cruelties she has inflicted on others. But we get to see a different side of her, we get to see background and how she got involved with Gilead. Which answered a question that plagued me: how the heck do you get involved in the abuse and control of your fellow women? We see some fight vs flight instincts from her. Her POV in this story confirms one thing: Lydia gets shit done, one way or another. Those second and third POVs are June’s daughters. One who has grown up within the borders of Gilead and one who hasn’t. This is excellent for contrasting the modern world with Gilead’s drab world.
Margaret Atwood is good at writing different voices. June was solemn but sassy. Aunt Lydia is hard and often cruel, but nurturing and calculating. Agnes is submissive and tender, as Gilead has raised her to be, but cunning with a defiant streak. Nicole is headstrong and reckless, but brave. June’s daughters’ voices also show their immaturity, as two young girls, they aren’t as sure of themselves as June was.
As I said earlier, Atwood COULD have left us with Handmaid’s. The tale would forever haunt us and things could have been left to our imagination. That would have been fine. But people wanted to know these answers. For decades, she’s been asked them. I think if I was her, at this particular time, I would have been moved to give answers. We are a nation under stress, and currently Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu is larger than life and looming like a warning in front of us. If this book doesn’t fit your ideal of what you wanted Gilead’s history to be, keep your memory of Handmaid’s and don’t reread Testaments. Simple as that. I think this book was a good reminder that history may be dark, humans may never fully find peace and learn from the mistakes of the past… but we evolve. We fight. We are entitled to change our political opinions and affiliations and rally against the injustices in the world. A book that shines light where there was once only darkness is not a flaw. It’s a reprieve.
Another theme I loved from this book is that sisterhood is what you make of it. Women supporting women creates a love like no other, blood relation or not. There’s something to be said about women choosing to help one another, even if it means you might carry the burden of consequence for it.
Some cons: the pacing was off. While the message was beautiful, it could have been much more powerful if the pacing was a bit more believable. Daisy’s timeline into Nicole into Jade into Pearl Girl seemed very skewed and unbelievable. Her circumstances could provide a little leeway in the storyline but not enough to make the rush totally plausible. I’m pretty sure it would take me more than a day or so to be convinced by almost total strangers to sneak into one of the most brutal and ironclad regimes in the world, especially when your parents have kept you sheltered your entire life… and you just witnessed firsthand the harm that Gilead could do. I’m not saying she SHOULDN’T have agreed, because she is June’s daughter (aka badass runs in her blood), I just think it might have taken more coaxing. Agnes’ and Aunt Lydia’s pacing were more on par with what I could expect. Aunt Lydia’s plot has been building over the entirety of Gilead, after all. And Agnes has grown up over a many years span in an unloving environment, with the exception of Tabitha and Becka, has been exposed to files upon files of corruption in the government, and is offered an opportunity to escape. Much more realistic pacing. Also… the actual escape was a bit too easy and fell a bit flat. This is the catapult to destroy an entire of a regime of terror. If we had more detail and suspense during the escape, it would have been more satisfying. There were also cheesy moments that could have held more emotion, for example, when *certain characters* reunite.
Final thoughts: This book may not have been necessary. But I enjoyed it. I’ve been missing Handmaid’s on Hulu. This offered a nice bridge in the wait. It’s a quick read. It doesn’t hold the same appeal the first one did, but like I said, it shouldn’t. Handmaid’s was the story of a spiral into destruction within a world. This book is climbing out of that grave. Some of Atwood’s final words in the acknowledgment gave me pause. To paraphrase, she said that humanity never repairs the damage in quite the same way. Sometimes it takes an army from without. Sometimes it takes one person from within. Our past doesn’t always have the right answer to fix our current problem, it’s always going to be approached in a slight (or major) different way. That’s a good thing to remember.