Summary and book reviews of The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

The Testaments

by Margaret Atwood

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood X
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2019, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2020, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Book Summary

In this brilliant sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, acclaimed author Margaret Atwood answers the questions that have tantalized readers for decades.

When the van door slammed on Offred's future at the end of The Handmaid's Tale, readers had no way of telling what lay ahead for her—freedom, prison or death.

With The Testaments, the wait is over.

Margaret Atwood's sequel picks up the story fifteen years after Offred stepped into the unknown, with the explosive testaments of three female narrators from Gilead.
 
"Dear Readers: Everything you've ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we've been living in." —Margaret Atwood

The publisher was unable to provide an excerpt of The Testaments to BookBrowse, but there is an extensive excerpt at The Guardian (link opens in new page).

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Clothes play a dual role in the novel. They signal life stages as well as status and class: the pink, white, and plum dresses worn by "special girls"; the drab prison-like stripes of the Econofamilies; and the green dresses of the betrothed girls. Did this aspect of the novel strike you as odd? Or is it actually not very different from our own obsession with brands and logos that convey a certain level of wealth and status?
  2. Aunt Lydia tells us that Gilead actually has "an embarrassingly high emigration rate." Can those who manage to leave Gilead ever truly "escape"?
  3. Daisy/Jade is, to say the least, a reluctant revolutionary. But if you were her age and were asked to absorb all of the shocking information she has to process in a very short ...
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    Booker Prize
    2019

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Testaments is without a doubt a five-star book; it’s well-written, it’s entertaining, and it moves extremely well. It’s inevitable, though, that it will be compared to The Handmaid’s Tale, and frankly it falls short of the bar. The novel feels somewhat predictable and, ultimately, less impactful, but it's still entertaining and very much worth a read...continued

Full Review (620 words).

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
[T]he more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller. Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

New York Times
In both The Handmaid's Tale (the novel) and The Testaments, Atwood wisely focuses less on the viciousness of the Gilead regime (though there is one harrowing and effective sequence about its use of emotional manipulation to win over early converts to its cause), and more on how temperament and past experiences shape individual characters' very different responses to these dire circumstances.

The Washington Post
The Testaments opens in Gilead about 15 years after The Handmaid's Tale, but it's an entirely different novel in form and tone. Inevitably, the details are less shocking ... Atwood responds to the challenge of that familiarity by giving us the narrator we least expect: Aunt Lydia. It's a brilliant strategic move that turns the world of Gilead inside out... But Aunt Lydia is not the only narrator of The Testaments. Interlaced among her journal entries are the testimonies of two young women: one raised in Gilead, the other in Canada. Their mysterious identities fuel much of the story's suspense — and electrify the novel with an extra dose of melodrama.

Slate
... All of this and a corker of a plot, culminating in a breathless flight to freedom, makes The Testaments a rare treat. The Handmaid's Tale, while magnificent, was never that. But—let's not kid ourselves—that's because, of the two novels, it is the least reassuring, the least flattering, and, sadly, the most true.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Atwood does not dwell on the franchise or current politics. Instead, she explores favorite themes of sisterhood, options for the disempowered, and freedom's irresistible draw. Atwood's eminently rewarding sequel revels in the energy of youth, the shrewdness of old age, and the vulnerabilities of repressive regimes.

BBC (UK)
The horrors and repressions of Gilead, so shocking on first encounter, so convincingly realised, are here repeated. If you've seen one ululating birth, one man torn apart by Handmaids, you've seen them all. Atwood's prose is as powerful as ever, tense and spare. She invests certain phrases with ironic fury: adulteress, precious flower, Certificate of Whiteness, fanatics, defiled. Her word games are ingenious. She forces you to think about language and how it can be made to lie. The plot is propulsive and I finished in six hours flat. But if The Handmaid's Tale was Atwood's mistresspiece, The Testaments is a misstep. The Handmaid's Tale ended on a note of interrogation: "Are there any questions?" Those questions were better left unanswered.

The Independent (UK)
Would The Testaments work as a standalone novel? Yes, although it wouldn't be feted in the manner of the original. Details of the horrors of Gilead unfolded slowly in The Handmaid's Tale, with its ambiguous ending; The Testaments can feel clunkily expositional and overly neat by contrast, explaining rather than suggesting. ... But as a reading experience it's also surprisingly fun, with its plucky young heroines and juicy (if predictable) plot twists. I was gripped and gobbled it up – and not just because of the time pressures of that broken embargo.

The Guardian (UK)
Atwood's task in returning to the world of her best-known work was a big one, but the result is a success that more than justifies her Booker prize shortlisting.

Reader Reviews

Lorraine D

Atwood has done it again!
If you liked The Handmaid's Tales, you will speed through Testaments. The chapters are short and pass the story back and forth between Aunt Lydia and the girls. Some of the description is more painful than Handmaid's Tales if you can imagine that. ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Impact of The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret AtwoodMargaret Eleanor Atwood was born in Ottawa in 1939. Although best known for her speculative fiction, she's the author of more than 40 books, including works of fiction, poetry, short stories, children's works and critical essays.

Atwood's desire to be a writer stems from a revelation she had at the age of 16. As she was walking across her high school's football field, she composed a poem in her head. At that point, as she has stated in a recent interview with the Guardian, she decided she was a writer. After receiving her B.A. at the University of Toronto and a Masters at Radcliffe, she moved back to Canada to teach English at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, publishing her first book in 1961, a poetry collection entitled...

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