It’s no surprise I went into The Testaments with some trepidation. My previous experiences with Atwood’s writing have been mixed – I really didn’t like The Handmaid’s Tale and thought Hag Seed was good but forgettable. Plus the announcement of The Testaments, a sequel to Handmaid, seemed like a cash grab designed to take advantage of the TV show’s success. Yet I’m happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised by this. The Testaments follow three women; Daisy, a teenager living in Canada, Agnes a girl in Gilead and Aunt Lydia, one of the villains from the previous novel. We follow their journeys and watch as their lives intertwine.
Unlike in The Handmaid’s Tale, the plot is incredibly fast-paced and gripping. Combined with really short, snappy chapters, this made The Testaments unputdownable; by the second half I was hooked and needed to know how it ended. Perhaps because Atwood didn’t need to do much world building that she was able to dive straight in and tackle a more complex plot. It definitely held my attention. There are obviously still the illusions to real life suffering inflicted on women throughout the world, and these were particularly chilling.
One of the reasons I didn’t like The Handmaid’s Tale was the character of Offred. She was incredibly bland with no discernible personality traits. The Testaments is the exact opposite in this regard. All the female leads – Daisy, Agnes, and Aunt Lydia – have been given their own distinct voice and language. Even without looking at chapter headings it is easy to know who is speaking. They also have their own personalities and it is interesting comparing the three women, and how their experiences are reflected in their word choice. The character that has stayed with me the most is Aunt Lydia. I vaguely remember her from the first book but she never particularly made much of an impression on me. Here she is truly fascinating. She’s morally ambiguous, and I never knew whether to like or dislike her. Some of her actions are truly deplorable, whilst others are more noble. Even after the novel ended, I wasn’t sure how I felt about her.
In the case of Atwood’s writing, it was third time lucky for me. Due to my past experiences with her books I was reluctant to pick up The Testaments but now I am glad I did. Everything that was missing from The Handmaid’s Tale for me is in abundance here. With a riveting plot and interesting characters, I couldn’t put this one down. Now, to get onto Girl, Woman, Other so I can compare both Booker winners.
The Testaments is published by Chatto & Windus and you can find more information here.