Review: The Testaments, ‘Poetical and Beautiful, Powerful and Political’

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Margaret Atwood makes a long awaited return with her sequel, The Testaments, that is full of political power and feminism

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Thirty four years after her bestselling novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood makes a dazzling return with her long awaited sequel, The Testaments. As a huge fan of The Handmaid’s Tale, I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into her new novel and Atwood did not disappoint.  The Testaments is set 15 years after the first novel and consists of three character perspectives – Aunt Lydia, a character from The Handmaid’s Tale, Agnes, a young girl living in Gilead and Daisy, a young girl living in Canada. The narratives, as well as the fate of Gilead, are explored in alternating chapters. 

For those who don’t know, Atwood’s novel is set in a near-future dystopian society called Gilead that views women as property of the state. The Handmaid’s Tale focuses on the control and power of Gileadean society and follows Offred, a handmaid. Handmaids are essentially sex slaves to the elite and are forcefully impregnated by their Commander in an attempt to reignite the population rate. Atwood has created one of the most interesting female protagonists in 20th Century literature but fails to include her in The Testaments. The first novel ends with readers wondering what may be in store for Offred so fans may be disappointed when they don’t see Offred’s fate straight away. 

However, that shouldn’t deter readers. Despite Offred’s exclusion, Atwood’s exploration of the alternative three narratives allows us to see more of Gilead, as we see it through the lenses of women who have had very different experiences. Aunt Lydia was a fantastic choice as she is a character that we yearn to know more about and Atwood deliveries, as we knew she would. She navigates her character and her story arc from a different, albeit, refreshing angle and she becomes a vehicle for the exposure of a different, unknown side of Gilead, therefore adding a richness to her character that we are not so familiar with. Daisy lives in Canada and also provides a great segway from the series, where the hostility between Gilead and Canada is explored, thus adding to the seamlessness of narratives, which allows The Testaments to be a more fulfilling story.

The world Atwood has invented is a terrifying one. Her writing still continues to be poetic and beautiful, powerful and political. It is Atwood’s writing that elevates her storytelling and characterisation always feeling like a reprimand; she has an extraordinary power to write with warning. You can’t help but feel as though she is trying to tell us something and as women, we should all listen with intent. Despite the powerful nature of the world she has created, The Testaments provide a glimmer of hope after the bleakness of The Handmaid’s Tale and Atwood’s feminist narrative hooks you and forces you to put the darkness aside. Atwood says herself that ‘writing is an act of hope’ and her new novel is a testament to that. 

Upon its release, questions about its impact on the TV series were instantly asked and fans will be pleased to know that The Testaments will have a spin-off series of its own that will weave into the narrative of The Handmaid’s Tale. Margaret Atwood and the producers were in constant communication to ensure seamlessness within the narrative and this is evident in the novel – there are small yet satisfying details an avid watcher of the series will recognise. However, reading The Testaments won’t spoil the series, just consider it a sneak peek of what’s in store for Gilead and everyone in it.

The Testaments is a rich, political and vigorous novel that rounds off a story, readers have waited decades for in signature Atwood-ian fashion. It’s a feminist dystopia that every woman should read. In the world we currently live in, the message of hope and the potential of a brighter future is something we should all resonate with and cling on to for dear life and who better than Atwood and her writing  to force us to listen to it.

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3rd year english student, can be found reading a dystopia or playing an oldies but goldies playlist on repeat

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