• Hannah Cartwright

Book Review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood




This is probably the most over hyped book I've ever read. Working in a bookshop in the months leading up to the publication date, we were encouraged to talk to as many customers as possible and promote pre-ordering. Window displays were set up, staff came in early to prepare after the embargo was lifted. It was exciting to see so many people so enthused over a sequel to a book published almost 35 years ago. I of course bought the book. But I didn't get around to reading it as quickly as I hoped. (I hate hardbacks, they don't fit in my bag and I hate carrying them around.) But after Christmas I finally started it.

For those of you who don’t know, The Testaments is the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel set in the dystopian society of Gilead. It tells the story from the perspective of a Handmaid, whose purpose is to fall pregnant and provide her Commander and Wife with a child. While it’s an entirely fictional story, Atwood has said that there is nothing happening in the book that isn’t happening somewhere in the world. With this in mind, the horrors of the day to day life of a handmaid are all the more terrifying. The Testaments continues with the building of the Gilead world from three new perspectives; an Aunt, a woman whose role is to educate other women in their journeys to becoming either wives or handmaids; a child growing up in Gilead; and a child growing up in Canada free from Gilead.

I'd seen some negative reviews and knew that for many it hadn't lived up to the hype. But I didn't want these to affect my experience, so I went in open minded. And at the start I loved it. It really delved into the world of the Aunts and the children of Gilead. It was interesting seeing how they were educated. But then almost half way through, all of that was abandoned and it became a YA dystopian. It was like I turned a page and I was reading a whole new book with a completely different author. It became predictable and childish and nothing like what I would expect from Atwood.

One thing I love about Dystopian worlds is the mystery. They are typically very different to our own world, playing off of and exaggerating elements of society. I love that there’s so much to explore through the book and for the author it must be so exciting to be able to create this world and present it to readers. With The Handmaids Tale, I was fascinated by the world of Gilead. When the TV series came out, I loved that I could visually see the world for myself and see Atwood build upon this. It unveiled more questions and more mysteries that kept viewers hooked. The Testamentshad the potential to show us a new side to Gilead that hadn’t already been explored. But upon finishing the book, I felt that it answered too many questions. It left us with no mysteries to solve. And I also feel that it’s spoilt the TV series. Set fifteen years ahead of the book and series, we know all know what will inevitably happen to everyone. Where’s the curiosity to keep me watching?

I personally don’t believe that this book deserved to win the Booker Prize. I think it won purely because of the hype created around it. I’m yet to read Girl, Woman, Other so can’t comment on which book was better but I have heard it received much better reviews. Also, Bernadine Evaristo is the first black woman to be awarded the Booker Prize. It's sad that her winning has been overshadowed by a less deserving book.

Overall, this was a really disappointing read for me. I’m giving this book two stars: 1 for the first half of the book and 1 for Aunt Lydia’s narration throughout as I felt her parts were what kept me reading.

Has anyone else read The Testaments? What did you think? Let me know in the comments or come and chat to me on Twitter!

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