At the opening of The Testaments, a statue is unveiled. This is a statue of the infamous, puppet-master, Aunt Lydia. Readers of The Handmaid’s Tale will know her well.
The Testaments is narrated by three narrators, but Aunt Lydia is the dominant of the three. Through her secretive writings, we learn of her history, and how she rose to power to become the mastermind that sets in motion the destruction of Gilead. Again readers of The Handmaid’s Tale will recognise the diary style of writing that is employed by Aunt Lydia as she records her actions and deeds, hopefully to be found by historians in the future.
Aunt Lydia is such a wonderful character and the irony in which a woman, albeit the most powerful of the Aunts, but still a woman, seen by the men of the Republic of Gilead as second class citizens, barely more than vessels for carrying babies, brings the Republic crashing down around their heads.
Aunt Lydia may be the dominant narrator, but the other two have vital roles to play in the narrative as well. Their chapters are labelled as “Witness Testimony 369A” and “Witness Testimony 369B” respectively. Both narrators give the reader valuable insight to Gilead and how young impressionable minds are easily directed and nurtured into the beliefs of a theocracy. One comes from outside Gilead and provides a contrasting view to the other who was raised in Gilead. Atwood skilfully shifts perspective back and forth with these characters at just the right moments and it works a treat.
It is interesting towards the end of the book when the young girl raised in Gilead does not even know how big Gilead is, its geographical location, which countries surround it and share borders. This is what happens when a theocracy is in power and the women, apart from the Aunts, are not even allowed to read. Information, and intelligence, as Aunt Lydia proves so succinctly are a powerful weapon.
This book was always going to face intense scrutiny being the sequel to such a classic book and the length of years it has taken Atwood to answer her fan’s pleas. The Testaments has a very different feel to The Handmaid’s Tale, but for me at least, it loses nothing in comparison. After reading some negative reviews, I went back and read this a second time because I was enjoying it so much. I think that most readers will agree that this novel will not be considered the classic that The Handmaid’s Tale is, but for sheer enjoyment, it holds its head high. To be able to find out the history of Aunt Lydia, and to watch her plan and scheme the destruction of Gilead was worth reading the book for me.
There is a tenuous link found at the end of the book to Offred, that will tantalise fans of the first book.
Just like any sequel trying to live up to impossible hype, this book is going to have its critics, but if you are a fan of the world of Gilead, I urge you to give it a try, you may be pleasantly surprised. A well deserved 4 Stars!
Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master's degree from Radcliffe College.
Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid's Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood's dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth in the Massey series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009. Ms. Atwood's work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen TM.
Margaret Atwood currently lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.
There is a brilliant interview and article on Atwood talking about The Testaments here - https://ew.com/author-interviews/2019/09/08/margaret-atwood-the-testaments/