The Testaments is the hotly anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, told by Atwood through the voices of three women intimately acquainted with the Gilead regime. It aims to answer the lingering question that many readers had after The Handmaid’s Tale – what brought about the oppressive regime’s collapse?
Many words have been written here and all over the internet about this sequel. Was it needed? Is it just a cash-grab? My opinion on the ‘necessity’ of The Testaments is that it is an amuse bouche to both The Handmaid’s Tale book and television series. Both the paper and on-screen originals can be thoroughly appreciated without The Testaments, but this novel does add some depth to my overall understanding and satisfaction with the story.
It is hard to review The Testaments without considering the influence of the television series. Without it’s success, I’m skeptical that The Testaments would have been written at all. As I read The Testaments, I could picture Atwood’s mind piecing together the novel during the three decades since The Handmaid’s Tale was published – first slowly, then rapidly as the television series gained momentum and critical acclaim. I am confident that the success of the television series pushed Atwood towards publication. I wonder if the character arc of Aunt Lydia in The Testaments could be attributed to that character’s development in The Handmaid’s Tale television series… It’s a lingering ‘chicken or the egg’ question in my mind. Did Atwood influence Aunt Lydia’s portrayal in the television series, setting up the character’s turn in The Testaments? Or did the writers and indeed Ann Dowd’s brilliant acting shape the character’s storyline in The Testaments? Perhaps the answer is both.
The story is structured in rotational chapters told from each character’s viewpoint. Each woman is experiencing the story from a different perspective, separated in both time and space, which adds a multi-world view that I felt The Handmaid’s Tale was lacking. In the late stages of the book, a time jump takes place to bring the three story-lines together which threw me a little and could have been better described and aligned. But that is ultimately my only complaint with the novel. I relished the opportunity to learn more about Gilead, the world in which it is set, and it’s downfall. The female characters were complex, flawed, and nicely nuanced. This is a worthwhile and satisfying addition to the dystopian fiction genre, and I was grateful for the opportunity to read it.
4 Microdots out of 5.