Read: October 2019
Author: Margaret Atwood
Length: 576 (paperback) | 13 h 18 m (audiobook)
Selected By: Lady Esbe
“More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.
“Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third: Aunt Lydia. Her complex past and uncertain future unfold in surprising and pivotal ways.
“The innermost workings of Gilead are opened as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.”
Review to Come.
Esbe’s Favorite Character(s): TBA.
Lady Esbe listened to the Audible edition of this selection, narrated by Ann Dowd, Bryce Dallas Howard, Mae Whitman, Derek Jacobi, Tantoo Cardinal, & Margaret Atwood
Wait, I counsel them silently: it will get worse.
I am a huge, huuuge, huuuuuge fan of The Handmaid’s Tale. I love the novel and enjoy the series, but I was pretty wary when I initially heard that Margaret Atwood was planning a sequel. Even by the time the selection was made, I kept putting off starting it. It was one thing to turn it into a television series, which can be shrugged off when it occasionally and inevitably diverges from the source material. But I was strangely protective of the idea of anyone, even the author herself, expanding that beloved source material, of building on it and…
Ok. I can’t sugarcoat it anymore. I was dismayed, totally and completely dismayed, that Margaret Atwood of all people – an author and woman for whom I have great respect, not only for her novels but also her poetry, her outspokenness, and her views – would risk potentially ruining the reputation and diluting the message of her most beloved, popular, and politically & socially relevant classic simply to cash-in on its current increased marketability with a sequel. The idea of the horror, injustice, and brutality of Offred’s plight being sort of diluted for profit truly saddened me; it was the unknown at the ending of The Handmaid’s Tale that made Offred’s journey that much more poignant to me – not knowing what became of her, not knowing whether she succeeded in her bid for freedom, whether she was betrayed in the end, and to just have all the possibilities removed and a single path laid out in black-and-white forever…
Look, when I love a book, I love a book. And I love The Handmaid’s Tale.
In times like ours, there are only two directions: up or plummet.
And now, after not only reading it but – on Esbe’s suggestion – also listening to the audiobook, I love The Testaments. Wherever you are, Margaret Atwood, I apologize for ever doubting you, your purpose, your skill, your mind, your ethics, your heart… mea culpa. I am unworthy. Please don’t revoke my Nasty Woman card or my pink hat.
You don’t believe the sky is falling until a chunk of it falls on you.
It’s difficult to delve too much into all of the things that make this book almost – almost, but not quite – as excellent as its predecessor without giving away key plot points that are better to learn about as you go. I can tell you that this is not a continuation of Offred’s story – Offred remains safely in the past, her story practically untouched, her life after Gilead still a relative unknown.
As they say, history does not repeat itself. But it rhymes.
I can also tell you that this book could actually not have come at a better time. I am a woman and a minority living in the United States under the most tyrannical, thuggish, chauvinistic, racist, and crooked regime our country has quite possibly ever known, and I have to say that, unfortunately but with complete sincerity, the possibility of our country becoming something like Gilead has never seemed so realistic, conceivable, and close to fruition. I can aaaaaalso tell you one thing I did not expect from a novel about Gilead: its underlying message of hope. The Handmaid’s Tale took place not long after the rise of Gilead, and our focus was firmly fixed on a single narrator whose idle mind drifted frequently to the love, life, and liberty that had been stolen from her even as the reality of her world became darker, more frightening, more infuriating, and sadder with every turning page.
When there is an emptiness, the mind will obligingly fill it up. Fear is always at hand to supply any vacancies, as is curiosity.
While The Testaments has its moments of all of the above, it is still a very different book altogether, mostly owing to the use of three very different narrators: two of our guides were born after Gilead was established, and one knows nothing of the world outside of its strict, ultra-conservative, male-dominated society while the other has the good fortune to live outside of Gilead’s reach but is just far enough within its sphere of influence to have developed a skewed vision of what, exactly, has been and is going on in the strange, isolated land once known as the United States; our third narrator, meanwhile, well remembers her former life in the U.S., where she had a job and a home and freedom and choices – a choice of lover, of occupation, of who she wanted to be… and she sees with eyes wide open what life has become for people – especially women – in Gilead.
… underlings given sudden power frequently become the worst abusers of it.
It takes these three very different women – as well as a host of supporting characters of both genders, some known to us but most not – to challenge the status quo. It took years of poor choices to create the proper environment in which the great cancer that would become Gilead could thrive, and it will take years to properly reach a point where citizens no longer have to be smuggled across borders to find any sort of proper freedom… but it can be done. And in order for it to be done, it takes forces from without and, even more importantly, influence from within.
The truth can cause a lot of trouble for those who are not supposed to know it.
One overarching theme of this novel actually hits a touchy subject with which I have always been fascinated and which technically should really be broken down into the psychological factors which govern it: the cognitive dissonance, pressure to conform, and obedience to authority which result in “regular” people doing morally and / or ethically abhorrent things to save themselves and / or their loved ones. It’s easy to look back or from the safety of miles and oceans and judge the decisions of others; I mean, you know right from wrong, you know good from evil, and, being the morally upright individual you are, you would never never ever be able to stand by and watch as children were yanked away from their parents or women were tortured and forced into submission or men were imprisoned and executed.
How easily a hand becomes a fist.
And yet… our own sense of self-preservation allows it to happen every time; we deny such atrocities are possible, we avert our eyes and turn our heads or change the station or channel, because if we don’t know, then we don’t have to admit that we’re too afraid to risk quite literally everything to save relative strangers. And it’s our individual fear of each losing what each we’ve gained or what we each love that has allowed villains such as Caligula, Ivan V, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Kim Jong Il to rise… and by the time we realize our error, it’s too late – they’re dug in too deep, they’ve changed all the laws, they own the treasury and the weapons… and all we can do at that point is hope someone else with better weapons and more manpower can do something about it. And while it’s not okay, it’s also something we really just can’t help. The world just doesn’t have enough Oskar Schindlers and Chiune Sugiharas, and that’s what makes them the rarest sort of human of all: true heroes.
In The Testaments, we hear firsthand accounts of how Gilead came to be, how power was captured, how it was maintained and by whom… and how it was allowed to go on for so long. And suddenly… what seemed like a distant and distinct impossibility for a North American country in The Handmaid’s Tale is completely believable. The names have changed, but the game is the same: the rise is gradual, the changes likewise, and the nefarious schemes always begin with the promise that changes are being made only for the good of the people, for your best interests, to protect you from those fearsome and godless [insert applicable foreigners of choice here].
Until, as always, an internal influence provides proof of the atrocities to such a degree that they can no longer be questioned or denied or ignored. And, as always, external forces muster to put a stop to it before it can spread to their shores.
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.
It’s hard to talk about The Testaments without bringing up its predecessor, but, as proven by Billmo, it is not necessary to have read The Handmaid’s Tale prior to plunging into the depths of The Testaments; however, I would still strongly urge you to read them in order. As BillMo herself stated during our book club meeting, some of the most momentous elements of this novel were lost on her, and she didn’t understand the purpose or notice the significance of some scenes and occurrences until she was given a brief summary of Offred’s story and how each character in it related to the others.
The Testaments is provocative, challenging, and, of course (this is Atwood, people), beautifully written. I truly loved it, and I easily and readily suggest it to everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or nationality. While the novel itself was excellent, I would actually – and in a rare twist – really recommend the audiobook, which includes narration by Ann Dowd, who fabulously reprises her role as Aunt Lydia, and the incomparable Derek Jacobi, who brings his signature passion and brilliance into an otherwise dry character.
Elle Tea’s Favorite Character(s): I had one, but I won’t say who it was, as revealing the name would also give away a big plot point that isn’t officially revealed in the novel until closer to the end.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle edition and listened to the Audible edition of this selection, narrated by Ann Dowd, Bryce Dallas Howard, Mae Whitman, Derek Jacobi, Tantoo Cardinal, & Margaret Atwood
I would never have picked this book to read because of the subject matter. It makes me sad and can be scary since it seems like something that can happen in real life. That being said it was a very good book.
Even the Aunts paid more attention to the pretty ones. But if you were already pre-chosen, pretty didn’t matter so much.
The story flowed nicely and was a quick read. It was almost like Atwood was able to write in a way that allowed you to read faster. I’m not sure if that makes sense. Some books that don’t seem like they are long can take forever to read. Am I spacing out? Did I fall asleep? Well, a number of reasons I guess can cause this. Atwood wrote and I was able to read faster.
“That was why Eve ate the Apple of Knowledge,” said Aunt Vidala: “too much imagination.” So it was better not to know some things. Otherwise your petals would get scattered.
I liked Agnes the best. Every time we were with her I got closer to her. She seemed very practical and realistic. I felt sorry for her and for all the women of Gilead with the exception of Paula. You’ll see. Well, I’m sure I can add a few more. (Insert fake cough and sputter Aunt Vidala). There was a part of the story where Agnes is longing to play on a swing. In this world swings were only for boys and not appropriate for girls. This made me really sad that one of her wishes was to be able to swing. Something so small a thing can mean so much. She at one time felt that she wasn’t a very good person because of thoughts that she was having and I just wanted to hug her and let her know that the bad things that have happened to her she could have those thoughts and not feel bad. I would be concerned if she didn’t have those thoughts.
I always made dough men, I never made dough women, because after they were baked I would eat them, and that made me feel I had a secret power over men.
As I read this book I can find people that fit the mindset of the Commanders and it’s disturbing. I never did read The Handmaid’s Tale but if I am going to read about this subject I’m glad The Testament was my first. I have a particular reason why but I don’t want to give any spoilers. Just wondering did I just give a spoiler by saying that? You decide after you read the story.
You can be angry at dead people, but you can never have a conversation about what they did; or you can only have one side of it.
I ended up liking Aunt Lydia quite a lot. You get to learn her background and see inside her mind. She is a very smart and cunning woman. She had hard choices that she had to make that hopefully I would be strong enough to make but I hope I never have to be presented with those choices. As I have said in prior reviews I really do love a strong female character and this book had several.
These kids could hardly burp without some adult pointing a camera at them and telling them to do it again-as if they lived their lives twice, once in reality and the second time for the photo.
We never were presented with a male character inside Gilead that I could like. Is that because the men and women were kept so separate that the women never really knew the men? That seems like a sad existence. My husband is my best friend and I can’t imagine a world where that is not something encouraged.
Normal is like looking out a car window. Things pass by, this and that and this and that, without much significance.
While Daisy played an important role in the story she was not my favorite. She was not good at picking up on how one should act in certain circumstances. There was a definite lack of intuition. She was also a little too free with words when maybe she should have been a little more reserved.
Innocent men denying their guilt sound exactly like guilty men, as I am sure you have noticed, my reader.
I was really proud of another female character by the name of Becka. She had terrible things happen to her and even though she did something that may be frowned upon it was that act which saved her life. She was a great friend and a good person.
I hope we never see a world like this. It was a very good story and I would recommend to others.
BillMo’s Favorite Character(s): Agnes.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle edition of this selection.