I can still remember the first time I read Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. For me, as undoubtedly for many people, it is one of those books. I got Hulu because of the series. When I heard that a sequel was being published as at once hopeful and worried. But there really wasn’t a question of getting it.
The Testaments is and is not as good as its forerunner. It is impossible to equal that first feeling of reading HT, but the sequel comes as close as possible – and I was reading at dinner and waitress hadn’t realized it was out so she ordered it. But it isn’t that cash in type of a read that you might have feared it would be.
In some ways, the book is both a sequel to the Handmaids tale the book and Handmaid’s tale the series (and apparently Testaments has been optioned by Hulu), but you don’t have to have read or watched either to read this.
Part of the book examines how regimes fall but the bulk of the book is the motivational for why people do what they do. Unlike HT, there are three voices in this novel – Aunt Lydia, a young girl from Canada, and a young girl in Gilead.
If HT was a study in how to cope and deal with PST and depression as events overwhelm one, the women in the Testaments are far more active, more acting than acted upon. We also get a wider look at Gilead – both in its current state and development. This in part is due the use of Aunt Lydia and her ability to see things that Offred was not privy too.
The use of the two young girls works, and their voices are distinct from each other (in part because of cursing). And the use of the Canadian girl allows us a view of the wider world, one that has been hinted at in the series.
The driving force of narrative that carried a reader though a Handmaid’s Tale is still present, and the book flows quickly. It is difficult to put down, and yet, like its forerunner, everything in it has historical precedent.
Atwood has said that she felt the story was still relevant today because of the current real-world politics, and it is difficult to argue with her. Here, there are politicians who believe an ectopic pregnancy can be reinserted and then carried to term, that women’s bodies can magically produce anti -pregnancy hormones if they are a victim of rape. There are girls in the world who are denied an education, who are abused because of simple biological functions. Female students are told that their dress choices must take into account the fact that their male classmates and teachers might be distracted. If the Handmaid’s Tale was a first warning to watch and fight back, the Testaments is that, and more terrifying because the world needs the warning.