I want to read The Testaments by Margaret Atwood but…

Do you want to read The Testaments by Margaret Atwood but have concerns? Let me address some of the things that might be nagging you.

There’s too much hype.

How could hype be avoided in this case?! It’s been decades in the coming; there’s been an insanely successful television series made; and Handmaid’s is more politically relevant than ever before. Also, hype-schmype – Atwood’s no newcomer, you’re in safe hands.

As they say, history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.

You’ll need to re-read Handmaid’s to pick up the story.

No, you won’t, just dive in. Gilead still exists but Atwood leaps forward in time and introduces new characters. In writing The Testaments, Atwood wanted to address the question, “How do totalitarianisms fall apart?“ (so you can expect some answers, or ‘just desserts’ if you’d prefer to frame it that way). In her Acknowledgements, Atwood states, ‘Totalitarianisms may crumble from within, as they fail to keep the promises that brought them to power; or they may be attacked from without; or both. There are no sure-fire formulas, since very little in history is inevitable.’

That said, it is most certainly a sequel and you need to know the story of Handmaid’s before reading The Testaments.

Hour by hour we watched vans arrive, discharge their quota of women, depart empty. The same wailings from the new arrivals, the same barking and shouts from the guards. How tedious is a tyranny in the throes of enactment. It’s always the same plot.

It can’t be as good as Handmaid’s…

Challenge accepted. Glance through these quotes and ponder how they might be applied to history, or what is happening in the world now.

You don’t believe the sky is falling until a chunk of it falls on you.

We’re stretched thin, all of us; we vibrate; we quiver, we’re always on the alert. Reign of terror, they used to say, but terror does not exactly reign. Instead it paralyzes. Hence the unnatural quiet.

How can I have behaved so badly, so cruelly, so stupidly? you will ask. You yourself would never have done such things! But you yourself will never have had to.

It’s better that way, and I am a great proponent of better. In the absence of best.

But the TV series… Is The Testaments just a written version of season 2?

No. I won’t say how but Atwood continues the Handmaid’s story and at the same time takes it in a completely different direction. It’s genius.

4.5/5 This is how you do sequels, people.


25 responses

  1. I’ve just finish reading The Testaments and I don’t think is added anything to the first book or the three TV series so far, all of which I’m a massive fan. To begin with there were no details and descriptions (as promised) of how the regime fell apart, disintegrated or blew up. We are none the wiser, apart from that there was massive corruption – surely a given. I wanted blood and guts. I wanted to see these %^^^% getting their come-uppence detail by detail. Secondly, the three series are soooo well written that it would be hard to be as brilliantly graphic and coldly suspenseful in a book. I can’t believe I just wrote that, it’s always the opposite, but because we are living in such ‘interesting’ times and we fans have decided that this story has such parallels to NOW we want answers and hope. Merely SAYING the wall crumbled just doesn’t cut the mustard. I did read somewhere that the gorgeous Margaret Atwood conferred with Bob Miller, the show runner, as they had to work out how she could write the book and still give him room for possibly seven more series. This may have been too big a restraint on Margaret.

    • I reckon the tv series would have been a massive constraint – even S2 and S3, let alone seven seasons! I loved S1 of the series but have been less convinced by the others – I guess it comes down to the fact that if all this corruption is happening, they’d get shot… wouldn’t they? Anyway, clearly June is a cat with nine lives! What I think is remarkable about the tv series is the cinematography – the cool distance and colour palette is incredible and I really think brought Gilead off the page.

      I went to the Atwood Live event a few weeks ago and, without her giving away spoilers, she said history shows that change comes when a regime rots from the inside and that this inevitably happens because there is always a power struggle. Which is how she framed The Testaments. I guess we’ll have to wait for S4-7 to fill in the gaps 😀

  2. Nope…
    I was in the bookshop again today, and there it was, and I realised again that I’m just not interested. Too many other great books to read to rehash the same FemAgenda.
    And BTW while I thought series 1 of the TV series was excellent, series 2 was boring. Sometimes when you’re on a good thing, IMO you should get off it in time…

    • I agree that S2 (and S3) of the tv series weren’t as good as the first. There are plenty of thorough reviews on Goodreads if you wanted a summary of the plot 🙂

    • I avoided reviews before I had read it (I really didn’t want any spoilers) but have read lots since. They seem to be predominantly extremely positive. When I finished, I thought that it’s hard not to rate a book highly that you simply couldn’t put down.

  3. Hi Kate, I bought the book yesterday. I haven’t watched the series, so happy to continue with what I know of the book, The Handmaids Tale, which I loved. I also bought it because it won the Man Booker Prize, and I always like to buy and read them.

  4. it’s on my list and I’m looking forward to it but I have to be in the right frame of mind. Watching the series and reading the first book literally caused nightmares at times!

  5. Pingback: The Top 50 from the Best Books of 2019 List of Lists | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.