Bingo square: History/Schmistory (as in alternate history, given that – as with The Handmaid’s Tale – the book ends with historical notes from a symposium about Gilead in the year 2197).
Set more than 15 years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments is told by three different narrators. There is the familiar Aunt Lydia who we saw through Offred’s eyes in the previous book; a young girl named Daisy living in Canada and unaware of her ties to Gilead; and Agnes, one of the first generation to grow up under this regime. Each are giving their own testimony of events that show their part in the eventual downfall of Gilead.
I struggled with this in the beginning. I wasn’t sure how I felt about there being a sequel at all, or at least one that exists along with the TV show. I know they’re telling the same story, and there’s a gap between where the show is and where the book (mostly) is, but it’s still connected more than I’d like. So if they co-exist (and Atwood has said she doesn’t want to step on anyone’s toes) where does that leave the ending of the first book? Is season two picking up where the book left off? I had all these questions in mind when I was reading and it crowded out what was actually happening in the book. Eventually I had to put the show aside and try to focus on Atwood’s vision from the books alone.
And I don’t think I was ever clamouring for a sequel, although I welcomed the news of it. I liked the open ended-ness of The Handmaid’s Tale. I could fill in the blanks myself. I could give Offred a happy ending instead of having it handed to me. But the more I read the more I was pulled back into that world.
Is this book necessary? No. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Mostly. It has more of a feel of a YA book about it (even with Aunt Lydia’s sections) and does not pack anywhere near as much of an emotional gut punch as HT. But I was still drawn into the narrative and wanted to know what happened. The ‘reveals’ (such as they are) of who the young women are are not remotely surprising, to the point I’m not sure if that’s the point. Maybe if you haven’t watched the show it’s a bit more of an added twist? I think the ending is tied up with bows, which is both a bit of a shame and what I wanted as I was reading. HT’s ending is still much more satisfying, even though it gives far fewer answers.
I didn’t buy some of what happened, just because it seemed so risky, but there’s also little sense of dread since we know the two in peril survived long enough to relay their stories. I think that’s where this falls down the most – because of its neatness it’s hard for it to be as affecting.
So I’m torn really. I read it very quickly because I wanted to find out what happened, but I’m not sure it really added anything to the world that Atwood had built.