Book Review : The Testaments by Margaret Atwood — A redeeming successor to The Handmaid’s Tale
The story continues in the nation of Gilead with a time skip of about 15 years following the escape of the Offred — the protagonist for the last novel. This novel is a narration by 3 people set in different worlds — Aunt Lydia — who if you’ve read the previous novel is responsible for training handmaids, an upper class girl in the republic of Gilead — Agnes, and an average girl living in the neighbouring nation of Canada — Daisy.
The story has been presented from 3 very different perspectives — an Aunt who used be a respectable person in the free pre-Gilead world and was forced to convert to the norms of new ultra-conservative nation, a girl learning being trained into ways of a Wife and her struggle with what society tells her to be correct as opposed to her own conscience, and an average girl in a free neighbouring country coming to terms with her fate.
No change. Still the same formatting has been followed and I still fail to see what particular advantage does it provide either in ease of reading or to the narration style. It is still as annoying as it was in it’s predecessor and I’ve made my peace with it.
One of the biggest improvements. The pacing has improved so much in comparisons. Every crucial details has been given roughly correct amount of time in order to show it’s impact. At the same time they aren’t so far apart that you start to feel bored in between.
The novel starts with a back story of each narrator transitioning into the current situation which beautifully merges in the climax. It was one of the strong points in the novel. Technically it’s a not gripping novel but fictions rarely are — at least I didn’t get bored to the point to drop this like the last one.
We got a much better look at the nation of Gilead of from a much different perspective in this novel. In The Handmaid’s Tale, I complained about a full novel being dedicated to a world and still not getting to know it to the point of satisfaction. I can say that this novel explored the world enough for me to get a sense of how Gilead looked like. It explored it’s situations, origins, internal corruptions and how some of ideals it stands for are quite shallow.
I’d like to think that the author was inspired by how modern day dictatorships work in order to develop the working of Gilead government. The mannerisms and hypocrisy of officials in the novel was something I could relate to with news of such nations in the real life as well.
The characters served well to develop the plot for the novels — however barring Aunt Lydia, I didn’t relate well to other two characters in the novel. I’d feel sorry for them time to time but their situation wouldn’t really intrigue me to the point where I’d just keep on reading just to know what happens to them next. This image basically summarizes my reaction to their situation most of the time
It’s safe to the safe Aunt Lydia is the star of this show and is probably suffering from a sore back after carrying the whole novel herself. She was the most interesting character and only one who genuinely evoked curiosity from me.
I was quite disappointed that we didn’t continue with adventure of Offred from previous novel. We did however get a fleeting sense of closure from one while in the whole novel about Offred indicating her successful escape. The most interesting parts of the story was the journey of Aunt Lydia and climax of the show. The epilogue was a very beautiful one which depicted a conference about Gilead many years after it’s fall.
Personally I liked epilogue the best — it was unique and provided a sense of completion about the characters and their journey. It also succeeds in communicating effects of such regime which I felt was the whole point of this couple of novels anyway.
If you want to read a novel in this series, I’d recommend to directly just start this one and not bother with The Handmaid’s Tale. Attracted by it’s Booker prize, I decided to read through The Handmaid’s Tale(or suffer through it) in order to enjoy this one to it’s fullest extent, but completing both, I’ve come to realise, there is absolutely no need to go through both of them. They are connected only by the fact they are set in the same world barring occasional reference to some unimportant facts.