Book Review: The Testaments

I read The Handmaid’s Tale last year for the first time, and I was blown away by how well done it was. One of the most realistic dystopias I’ve read, which is depressing I suppose, since it was written decades ago and has only seemed to get more likely as a possible predictor for the future. (1984, of course, is another clear leader in the genre, and also depressing for the same reasons. But 1984 wasn’t quite as accessible to me as Handmaid’s Tale was. There’s a bigger learning curve involved, figuring out exactly what’s going on in 1984, though that might also just be that I read it so long ago. I probably need to give it another go . . . )

In any case, when I heard Atwood had written a sequel, decades later, I was suspicious at first, worried that it was just a money grab to tie in with the Hulu adaptation of the original. But it went on sale, and I was curious, and I’d loved the first one so much . . . how could I resist? I really wanted to know how she’d approach the sequel, since I felt the first one stood so well on its own. (Something she must have agreed with, since it went sequel-free for so many years.)

I shouldn’t have been suspicious at all. Atwood hit this book out of the park as well. If anything, it was more of a thriller than the first, and I found myself ripping through the last third, just wanting to know what happened next and how it all turned out.

The book is told through three viewpoints, all female: a Canadian middle-class teen, the daughter of a Gileadean Commander, and Aunt Lydia herself, the leader of all the Aunts in Gilead. By weaving between those three characters, we finally get to see a clearer picture of both what Gilead really looks like, how it came to be what it is, and what its future might be. It’s still not spelled out directly all the time–Atwood enjoys putting the puzzle pieces in front of her audience and letting them make connections on their own–but that’s part of the enjoyment of the series, as well.

I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t say more of the plot than that. If you were a fan of the original, I consider this one a must read. If you haven’t read the original, they’re both more than worth your time. If you didn’t care for the original . . . this one, as I said, is more accessible, and so might be worth a shot still. 10/10.

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