August Book Club: The Testaments
Margaret Atwood is arguably one of the most prolific and respected authors of our times, seemingly able to predict aspects of our future. Her bestselling novel, The Handmaiden's Tale, is the first story on the world of Gilead. It has become cemented in popular culture with the smash-hit TV adaptation starring Elizabeth Mosse, and the image of the handmaiden in her blood-red cloak and white hat became ubiquitous with women protesting President Trump's presidency. Her long-awaited sequel to The Handmaidens Tale, The Testaments, was released in 2019, Atwood’s gift to her legions of loyal fans, who have been asking her after June and the world of Gilead for decades after the first book's release.
The Testaments is a book written for fans, and feels like it - in the best possible way. Atwood gives us a glimpse into the answers we’ve all wanted for so long: How did Gilead fall? Did June survive? How is Aunt Lydia as terrible as she is? The story follows the point of view of three different women: Agnes, a young girl growing up in Gilead; Daisy, a girl living in Canada shocked by the atrocities of Gilead, and the infamous Aunt Lydia.
“We’re stretched thin, all of us; we vibrate; we quiver, we’re always on the alert. Reign of terror, they used to say, but terror does not exactly reign. Instead it paralyzes. Hence the unnatural quiet.”
The Handmaidens Tale was all about claustrophobia - we were cooped up in Offred’s head, experiencing her close, prison-like existence. Everything we knew, we knew it from her. The Testaments in comparison has a much larger scope - we’re unable to see Gilead from an outsider’s point of view, as well as how it came to be. From Aunt Lydia, we see the terrible way this new regime was formed. Here is where Atwood excels - it’s horribly bleak and realistic, and a story we’ve heard before. It is in no way inconceivable that this sort of regime could be created now in our own world.
“Keep your friends close but your enemies closer. Having no friends, I must make do with enemies.”
The action is also bigger and louder in The Testaments, influenced perhaps by the explosive TV show, for which this book will go on to be further inspiration for. The character’s journeys intersect in less than believable ways, but Atwood understands that the need for action is paramount. As a society, we need something to bolst us up, something to hope for. It’s clear from this book that she has hope for society, and hope for the younger generation especially to help the elders see sense.At its heart, though, this book remains a warning. As Atwood often says ‘I didn’t write about anything that hasn’t already happened in real life.’ These novels remain a gruelling reminder to not get complacent, to keep on fighting, and never let the fight for equality rest. Some people say this book was not needed, and that it held little of the quiet terror that made The Handmaidens Tale such a triumph. I disagree. The Handmaidens Tale told us what could happen if nothing changed - The Testaments tell us there is still hope.