Margaret Atwood returns to the bleak dystopian world of THE HANDMAID’S TALE with THE TESTAMENTS. While not iconic nor an instant classic as its predecessor was, it’s a powerful sequel that in its own way is far more hopeful, delivered with Atwood’s trademark literary style.
The novel begins some years after the events of THE HANDMAID’S TALE and follows three women, two living in the Republic of Gilead and one living in Canada. At least two will be recognizable as having a connection with the book and TV series. Their lives will intersect in an act of resistance.
Otherwise, it’s hard to say much about the book’s plot, as little is given in the book’s description. This is a little frustrating in the beginning, as we have three testimonies, each told in third person, and with some time passing before we know their names and can figure out who they are. Once things get rolling, everything starts to congeal toward a collision course.
Readers expecting a novel as iconic as THE HANDMAID’S TALE may be disappointed and wonder why THE TESTAMENTS was necessary. For me, I didn’t want an instant classic as much as a story that simply did justice to its predecessor, which I think it accomplishes. In some ways, it’s superior to THE HANDMAID’S TALE in that the protagonists, while living in a world where women are largely powerless, demonstrate a surprising amount of agency that culminates in an act of resistance. An act so decisive it could change everything.
Another thing I liked about THE TESTAMENTS is that it does not overtly moralize. Instead, it simply shows what it’d be like to live in Gilead. From sexual assault to denial of basic rights and freedoms, women have it pretty bad while being indoctrinated about how good they have it and that whatever they get is God’s will. I enjoyed exploring the oppressive theocratic society of Gilead through multiple characters’ eyes rather than just one who is a Handmaid, whose world is very small.
Overall, THE TESTAMENTS is a deserved sequel that does justice to the classic HANDMAID’S TALE while cleverly complementing both the first book and the TV series.