Margaret Atwood has once again managed to captivate her audiences with Gilead, in her latest work “The Testaments,” where three new voices bring a different light to the dystopian future of the United States.
Being re-immersed in the totalitarian world abundant with a lack of female rights was almost as shocking as reading it for the first time in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” In the first book we follow Offred’s journey as a handmaid where she is forced to be bred until she produces a child for elite couples. Her every move is watched by Gilead’s secret police force, The Eyes. Meanwhile, a radical group called Mayday, works to help citizens escape this hellish society.
I was worried this novel would suffer since much of the plotline in the original was based around discovering the inner-workings of this social order, but this was not the case.
One of the new narrators is Daisy, a young activist from Canada with a strong hatred for Gilead, adds a new element to the world of Handmaids and Marthas. Life as we currently know it has not changed in Canada. Kids aren’t married off as soon as they get their periods, women can still have jobs, and the government doesn’t have total control of every aspect of someone’s day, which only amplifies the troubling nature of Gilead.
We learn that the United States has split entirely, with California and Texas being their own entities, raising questions as to how such things could even come about. Sadly, these questions are never answered.
The only perspective the audience receives as to how Gilead came to be is through Aunt Lydia’s narration, along with the previous knowledge of the extremist group, The Sons of Jacob, overthrowing the government in Offred’s flashbacks from the previous book.
Jumping into Aunt Lydia’s mind was a whirlwind; Atwood’s development of her moral compass is outstanding. By the end of the book I was unsure if I should be rooting for her or against her.
I also enjoyed a look into the Aunts’ lifestyles and their role in Gilead. The first novel gave insight to how Handmaids’ lives were. While “The Testaments’” unique narrators allow readers to see the world through the eyes of an outsider, an Aunt, and a young girl growing up in one of the “wealthier” homes.
At first, I was unsure that having three storytellers would work out. “The Handmaid’s Tale” worked simply because there was such a lack of understanding. The reader was learning alongside Offred, making the story seem more personal.
Agnes, the final narrator, is the exact opposite of the spunky Daisy. How Atwood was going to interweave their story lines along with that of Aunt Lydia was a concern of mine. Storytelling can become clunky among multiple narrators if their stories don’t mesh, but “The Testaments” didn’t have this problem at all.
The subtle twists they have not only connect the narrators themselves but also Offred’s story. Agnes was ripped from her mother, a Handmaid, at a young age. Then she was placed with an elite family. The backstory is reminiscent of Offred’s own daughter being taken on their escape to Canada. It isn’t revealed whether this is a coincidence or a confirmation that Agnes is the child of Offred.
Personally, I enjoyed not knowing who the mother of Agnes and Baby Nicole was. As this is a pivotal piece of political propaganda that Gilead uses to further their control. It appealed to the ambiguous ending of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which carried over into this novel as well.
The only connection we are given is Aunt Lydia, and I believe not knowing what happens to Offred only makes the end of the first book all the more unsettling.
That being said, I was not a fan with the ending of “The Testaments.” While Atwood did her best to create the same ambiguity as her original work, the final few chapters simply felt rushed and full of plot holes.
The reason for Baby Nicole being moved from Canada, to Gilead, back to Canada was lost. The fate of Aunt Lydia seems like a desperate reach to be vague as Offred’s ending was.
The only reason I could see the haziness of this ending working is if a final novel is produced about the fall of Gilead, as that seemed to be where this work was headed. Whether or not this happens has yet to be revealed.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with how well the majority of the novel flowed together and connected with the first book. “The Testaments” was enticing and delightfully creepy; well worth the read.