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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  • Published:
    Sep 2019, 432 pages

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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

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Reviews

Media Reviews

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.

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 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.

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.

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