Review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Opening sentence: “Only dead people are allowed to have statues, but I have been given one while still alive.”

I couldn’t possibly end 2019 without reference to the literary moment of the year. The publication of The Testaments in September was a once in a lifetime moment. The above picture shows the digital billboards in Waterloo station on its release day; it’s not often you see a new literary release getting such prominence. As the sequel to the iconic 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, expectation was high, especially as it came 34 years after Handmaid’s release. In October it went on to jointly win (alongside Bernardine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other) the Booker Prize; an award it was nominated before its 10th September release date, so this only added to the anticipation of its greatness.

So, despite all this fanfare, I opened The Testaments with a purposely open mind – I didn’t read any reviews prior (I did a lot of review dodging actually, for fear of accidentally reading a spoiler!) as I really wanted to make sure I took my own conclusions and feelings from the book.

The Testaments is set 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale and I thought I’d be reading a direct sequel, as in, a story told from Offred’s point of view (Offred being the handmaid of the prequel, who is left on a bit of a cliffhanger) but that was – in fact – not the case. Instead, we have a trio of voices; Aunt Lydia, Agnes and Daisy who tell us this tale. Between them, in their testaments, they give us an insight into life in and out of Gilead and yes, we do find out Offred’s story, but not in the way you might expect. Also unexpected was the fact that Agnes and Daisy are teenagers and it was fascinating to find out more about Aunt Lydia’s back story.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers – and I think this is the kind of book you’re either going to read, or you aren’t – so all I’ll say is the return to Gilead didn’t pick up where I thought it would and due to that, the narrative didn’t go where I thought it would – in the best possible way. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since finishing and any book that can pull my expectation out from under me in such a clever, entertaining way – while also providing a cutting feminist commentary on certain events now – is always going to be a winner for me. It came with the bar set so high and, personally, it didn’t disappoint, something I’m so happy about! I have since read reviews of it and know it has split people’s opinion, if you’ve read The Testaments, what did you think?

/ Published by Chatto & Windus 2019

/ 432 pages

/ Rating: 4/5

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