The Testaments

The Testaments


More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.

Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.

As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

Our Review

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is everything I wanted it to be. Since I first finished The Handmaid’s Tale I have wished for more, perhaps another book I liked as much even. I had read interviews with Margaret Atwood saying that she was not considering a sequel so that avenue was closed. Then the news came that she was writing a sequel and I was so happy.

September 9th by pre-ordered copy was delivered but I had been at work and my partner had forgotten to tell me it had arrived! Unfortunately, when I found out it had been delivered, I was on the eve of a fourteen-hour shift at work, so I had to wait for the next available moment to read it (all the while cursing my boyfriend.)

For the next week I snatched any chance I could get to read The Testaments, when I was on the bus on my way to work, when I was on my lunch break and in particular any time my toddler was asleep. Finally, a week go there was period of time my toddler was having a sleepover with family, so I snatched the chance to finish The Testaments

Since finishing The Testaments, I have heard some people say it didn’t live up to the hype but as far as I am concerned The Testaments far exceeded my expectations.

Before I begin the review know that it may contain some spoilers.

One thing that was picked up on in Margaret Atwood In Conversation is that the cover of The Testaments is much brighter and more hopeful than that of The Handmaid’s Tale. It even features a young woman with her hands outstretched. The Testaments is on the whole a more hopeful book but be reassured reader it is still dark.

I loved the blurb for The Testaments and the quotes in the beginning were definitely carefully preselected.

From the first line of The Testaments I knew I was going to love it as much as The Handmaid’s Tale.

“Only dead people are allowed to have statues, but I have been given one while still alive. Already I am petrified.”

The book is written in split narrative form and each voice connects with the reader. The three central characters are Aunt Lydia, a young girl who grew up within Gilead and a young girl who grew up in Canada and thus sees Gilead from an outsider’s perspective.

Within the first few pages we have a clue about the true nature of the Aunts’ position within Gilead, that is their power is not absolute.

“We Aunts must not be too presumptuous even in stone.”

Atwood has said that where The Handmaid’s Tale was set in early Gilead The Testaments is set in the Mid-Gilead period.

After everything that we learned about Aunt Lydia during the course of The Handmaid’s Tale I was surprised by her in this book. First by the purpose of her chapters and later by getting better acquainted with her character and the process by which she became an Aunt.

As Atwood said regimes like this are often toppled from within but previously I would have thought Aunt Lydia an unlikely character to be doing the toppling but it is clear very quickly that this is her intention.

“The corrupt and blood-smeared fingerprints of the past must be wiped away to create a clean space for the morally pure generation that is surely about to arrive. Such is the theory.

But among these bloody fingerprints are those made by ourselves, and those can’t be wiped away so easily. Over the years I’ve buried a lot of bones, now I’m inclined to dig them up again – if only for your edification, my unknown reader.”

The chapters written as ‘Transcript of Witness Testimony 369A’ are written from the perspective of someone who grew up as a second-generation member of Gilead. We later learn this girl’s name is Agnes.

The following paragraph is clearly meant as a reminder that this is based on real events and also a warning of where we could potentially head.

“I imagine you expect nothing but horrors, but the reality is that many children were loved and cherished, in Gilead as elsewhere, and many adults were kind though fallible, in Gilead as elsewhere.”

School was the main format used by those in charge to teach young girls the ways of Gilead and the reasons why they have had the rules they did.

“The urges of men were terrible things, and those urges needed to be curbed…Whatever our shapes and features, we were snares and enticements despite ourselves, we were the blameless causes that through our very nature could make men drunk with lust.”

At about eight she used to like being allowed to help bake. “I always made dough men, I never made dough women because after they were baked, I would eat them, and that made me feel like I had a secret power over men. It was becoming clear to me that despite the urges Aunt Vidala said I aroused in them, I had no power over them otherwise.”

One of the things we learn early on is that Gilead use a lot of prayers around ‘Baby Nicole’. A baby smuggled out of Gilead by her handmaid mother. Gilead frequently demand her return and have people out looking for her as she would be now.

Aunt Lydia has secret records on people within the regime and she knows that knowledge is power, so she keeps the records carefully hidden in a banned book.

“I have chosen my title advisedly, for what else am I doing her but defending my life? The life I led. The life I’ve told myself I had no choice but to lead.”

The chapters written as ‘Transcript of Witness Testimony 369B’ is written from the perspective of a young girl who grew up in Canada. We later learn her name is Daisy. She tells us that her parents lied to her about her birth date.

“Neil and Melanie lied to me about that: they’d done it for the best of reasons, and they’d meant really well, but when I first found out about it, I was very angry at them. Keeping up my anger was difficult, though because by that time they were dead. You can be angry at dead people, but you can never have a conversation about what they did; or you can only have one side of it. And I feel guilty as well as angry, because they’d been murdered, and I believed their murder was my fault.”

She realised afterwards that the house they lived in was designed to be non-descript and to be conspicuous for a reason. On the day they died they said they had stuff to tell her, but they died before this happened.

In her own chapter Aunt Lydia attempts to justify her actions:

“I made choices, and then having made them, I had fewer choices. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I took the one most travelled by. It was littered with corpses, as such roads are. But as you will have noticed, my own corpse is not among them.

In that vanished country of mine, things had been on a downward spiral for years. The floods, the fires, the tornadoes, the hurricanes, the droughts, the water shortages, the earthquakes. Too much of this, too little of that. The decaying infrastructure – why hadn’t someone decommissioned those atomic reactors before it was too late? The tanking economy, the joblessness, the falling birth rate.

People became frightened. Then they became angry.

The absence of viable remedies. The search for someone to blame.

Why did I think it would nonetheless be business as usual? Because we’d been hearing these things for so long. I suppose. You don’t believe the sky is falling until a chunk of It falls on you.”

The above paragraph gave me chills because she could be talking about modern Britain or America rather than the fictional pre-Gilead America.

There was one phrase in Agnes’ testimony that really brought home to me how much meaning Atwood can convey in one sentence.

“‘Wedlock’ it had a dull metallic sound, like an iron door clicking shut.” Marriage leads to the girls being trapped.

The Testaments took me very little time once I managed to gain some free time in which to read. There was not a single page in the book I didn’t enjoy reading. It was not a disappointment.







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