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Being the most awaited book of the year, it's not easy. I can say that most-including my own-negative reactions are primarily based on expectations. The Handmaid's Tale has been a holy ground in the literary world since its publication in 1985, a true modern classic further intensified by the popular show and current political tensions. There couldn't be greater stakes for a sequel, and even for the ever-talented Margaret Atwood, that's a tough performance to deliver. All in all, this is a well-written tale of adventure that extends the creation of the world implied and alluded to by the original. But it's dull as well, mostly unsurprising, and basically feels like a chance to cash in. I despised all the young characters; more specifically. Some 67 percent of the book is narrated by young people. A Middle Grade narrative voice that is jarring and undesired is generated by their lack of maturity. Not inherently unrealistic, just distracting. For pages and pages, their kiddish thoughts go on … Final rating:2/5 @Barcelonafan1 of the Teen Review Board at the Hamilton Public Library
Very well organized; well (but not very well) written; often juvenile; and not particularly imaginative; nearly popular detective thriller.
An interesting way to close and tie up most of the loose ends of the original story. By explaining that some records were destroyed or lost, all things cannot be answered but enough is revealed that the reader feels there was a fairly complete story. Something like this can happen when not enough people stand up to protect individual rights by a small group.
This novel is a wonderful follow up of The Handmaid's Tale. The story is very involved, moving, and well written.
In spite of my admiration for Atwood’s writing and her thinking, I could not get to like The Testaments. If I’m being generous, I place it in a category of political satires like those of Jonathon Swift – the interest is in the ideas, but less so in the story line or the characters, who are cartoon caricatures instead of anything like real people.
This is disappointing in Atwood, because the characters in her other novels have depth and realistic emotions. Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale was not cartoonish, but invited readers to share in her emotions at the horror of her life. None of the three leads in The Testaments, to say nothing of the minor characters, invite empathy because they feel like sketches that an author might develop while working out the plot for a TV treatment that is not likely to be made. Was Atwood rushed into completing the book before she had time to go back and make the characters real? It feels like it.
This is not to say there is nothing to admire in the book. Atwood’s aphorisms about social life are thoughtful and provocative, and her caustic quips about the hypocrisy and corruption of Gilead are entertaining. Lydia, the senior aunt, ruminates in Atwood’s sharp, ironic, critical voice and that is worth the time. Some incidents, like the abuse of the girls in Gilead, create a sense of what life could be like for powerless young women in our own society. Lydia’s compromises, initially to save her life and later to protect her power in Gilead, illustrate some aspects of how a vicious and violent culture distorts the life and values of its victims. Even the small ways that the powerless girls find to gain some agency and self-protection are a thoughtful illustration of how people survive in our own culture. Generally, though, neither the young girls nor Lydia were convincing as characters from the start through to the end of the novel.
Atwood also makes good points about media and propaganda, literature misrepresented for the users’ own ends. But she also shows that literature is also a defense, allowing readers to discover the truth and manipulation. This is a theme in Atwood’s other writing, and it’s particularly relevant in the Trumpian political period.
However, so many details of the novel just feel wrong – that is to say, they don’t match the pictures I have from other, better writing. The spy story aspects, for example, are superficial and unrealistic compared to anything by John Le Carré. (Really? Sending an untrained child into a police state as an agent and expecting that she will extricate herself?) The capture and torture of the women in the initial revolution is unrealistic compared to what really happened in recent Latin American revolutions, for example, or even to the portrayal in The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m sure that Atwood knows better than this, as she reads widely and comments on these very topics in her political work.
What’s most disappointing to me, however, is the thinness of the ideas she presents here. Aside from shallowly exploring how a senior apparatchik rationalizes her participation, there’s little here that is not presented better in The Handmaid’s Tale, or in a large number of other novels about political dissidence.
In the acknowledgements, Atwood calls this a thought experiment, and that's probably the best way to think of it. It follows the threads of the earlier story in some new ways, but it's not a fully developed exercise (in spite of the many people who seem to have contributed, and the 400 pages). Clearly, many people react viscerally to its depiction of violent patriarchy, but this is a book that should and could have been much better.
This is not a kid's book.
Although it is fictional is seems very real and could be an account of many places or times such as when Hitler was around, or what might have happened with slave's by there owner's, or even in 2020 with government trying to change so many things and taking control of people. It feels very real!
If we don't learn from history, we are bound to repeat it!
Enlitening, Scarry, Sorrowful, awful deeds but where they needed? ...
I did have some trouble with the characters going back and forth and trying to figure out who was who.
The Hadmaids Tale is a book the goes before this one.
An excellent follow up to The Handmaid's Tale. This engrossing novel is both triumphant and heartbreaking as it takes some unexpected turns. It ticks all the boxes and I can't recommend it enough as an entertaining quick read.
Well it's not Handmaid's Tale but I thought it was still pretty darn good. If you drop the idea of a comparison before you begin, I think you will enjoy the story.
It's been too long since I read the Handmaid's Tale, but while this book was a delight to read (if "delight" can describe a dystopian novel), it didn't quite carry the same depth of emotion. Loved the Aunt Lydia parts, appreciated Agnes' narration, and gradually grew to dislike the Daisy bits. There might be things about the characters and their plots that are rather unconvincing, but if you're an imaginative enough reader, you'll be alright. It was enjoyable overall, and I would recommend it to anyone who has lingering questions about the Handmaid's Tale.
It’s definitely not what I was expecting. It's a breezy thriller, I'd say. The primary bad guy, Commander Judd, as physically described by Atwood resembles Santa Claus, if Santa took a really bad turn down the road of totalitarian patriarchy (don’t do it, Santa!). An image of a demented Santa, for me, brings an air of the ridiculous to the proceedings. One of Judd’s characteristics is that he’s only interested in teenage girls: marry one, go a few years, kill her, repeat. Horrible but treated with a touch of the slapstick by Atwood (“rat poison? It’s so easily detectable,” the central character and antihero Aunt Lydia muses. Yes, disappointingly sloppy, Santa).
On the positive side, it’s well paced, and kept me turning the pages. It flew by for being a 400 page novel in the hands of a slow reader. Aunt Lydia is the sort of Machiavellian character it’s enjoyable to encounter in fiction (if only we could keep them all there).
I appreciated how it agreed with Nabokov’s take on totalitarianism: that it is marked more by the ineptness and buffoonery of those in power than by any impressive calculating evil.
I get the sense, reinforced by Atwood’s acknowledgements here, this was just written for the entertainment of people who have enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale in its written and televised formats, and not so much because it was a novel that was demanding to be written, so to speak. It exists because there was an eager market for it that didn’t call for it to be very “literary”. Which is fine of course. But that it was a co-winner of the Booker Prize is much less understandable.
It is clear that, in shaping her sequel, Atwood drew on the current Trumpian regime and the #MeToo backlash against patriarchal injustice. I liked that this book was more plot-driven by the three female narrators who recorded events in their journals (their testaments/holographs), that the elder becomes a double agent, and that the other two are young – the new generation rising up. We learn more about Gilead’s history and Canada’s response. Despite the last part seeming rather hurried, here’s a sense of hope, and a sense of the world turning on the same themes.
A satisfying follow-up for those who finished The Handmaid's Tale and weren't quite done with the story. Margaret Atwood not only explores the horrifying creation of the "Aunt" ideology, but also the infiltration of Gilead that leads to it's downfall. Morally compromised Aunt Lydia is an unexpected ally to the two teenage protagonists who fuel most of the action in this sequel.
This is not literary greatness... Far from it! At best it reads like a young adult fiction, a mild suspense novel. This is the type of sequel that adds nothing significant to the great novel that was The Handmaid's Tale. I really wonder what were Margaret Atwood's motivations when she wrote this? Anyway, be prepared for one-dimensional characters, except perhaps for Aunt Lydia. Also be prepared for a non-sensical story line. Why would someone need a human carrier to transmit secret information abroad when she already had a much safer way to do it? And why would a corrupt dictature collapse because of the revelation of said corruption to the world... I don't see this happening anywhere in the world. All in all, I was extremely disapointed. It would have been better to leave The Handmaid's Tale as a stand alone book. Much better!
I agree the book was a little hokey, and highly predictable. But for someone who likes to have a pretty bow on things, I was interested in what had become of all the characters from the original book (and of course the Hulu TV series) -- The Handmaid's Tale. Overall a quick and enjoyable read from three points of view, June's two daughters and Aunt Lydia.
Holy unnecessary sequel, Batman!! I can’t think of a gentle way to start talking about this book, so what I’ll say is this book is what might happen if someone took a hard long look at what really worked well about The Handmaid’s Tale and said “okay but what if we did the opposite of that?” A thing you should understand about this book is that it’s much less a sequel to the 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale than it is a companion novel to the Hulu adaptation show The Handmaid’s Tale, and as such has a whole bunch of corniness, confusing world-building, and hard hitting questions that no one was asking, such as “what if Aunt Lydia was good, actually?”
What I will say for the book is that Atwood remains a skilled and engaging writer, capable of making even a deeply flawed narrative feel alive.
This book has brought back my love of reading. The writing is superb, and the story is a page-turner. I read The Handmaid's Tale when it came out, saw the movie, and am now watching the series on TV starring Elizabeth Moss. The Testaments carries forward the stories of Offred's two daughters and Aunt Lydia. My only tiny criticism is that Gilead is described as a "Puritan theocracy." In fact, the Puritans in America created a more just society among people of European ancestry than the European society they'd left behind. That's not saying much by today's standards, but still. The subject of the Puritan treatment of Indigenous People is another subject, and a tragic one.
I really enjoyed returning to the world of Handmaid's Tale. It's interesting to see how much has changed in our world that makes the world of Gilead seem even more sinister and plausible than it did when Handmaid's Tale was first published.
This book was okay, I like the way Margaret Atwood writes. However, it was confusing to me. I had to keep going back in the book to understand what I was currently reading. Also, it didn't open my eyes in any way and honestly, I couldn't wait until it was over. Having read The Handmaid's Tale, I was hoping it would be a continuation of that story about Offred. She was mentioned briefly but it wasn't much.
I have not read "The Handmaid's Tale," but understand from others that it was a close-up view of how the theocracy played out in people's lives; this sequel certainly portrays the horror of life in Gilead but the three separate story lines make it less claustrophobic. Each subplot is incredibly engaging and makes for a wonderful page-turner. Winner of the 2019 Booker Prize.
In Testaments, Atwood presumes to offer her fans a look into the fall of Gilead. As an idea, it was formulaic, unsurprising, and methodical. It doesn't mean it wasn't bad. It's still a decent story but one might expect more from the author. I believe the legacy of Handmaid's Tale would have been preserved had that story been it. The end was mystery that we could interpret and imagine however we wished to. Testaments eliminated that perfect mystery.
I was very impressed by the Handmaid"s Tale, however this felt like it fell short. While interesting and still a good book, it just does not compare to Margaret Atwood's others. It felt stereotypical, not the breathtaking originality that she is known for and I was able to guess most of the major plot points. Still well-written, but not on the same level as Handmaid's Tale or Alias Grace. I would absolutely still recommend giving it a read, because the subject matter and expansion of the original story is very interesting, but don't expect it to be life changing.
A brilliant sequel to a wonderful and important book. Atwood expands the world she created in The Handmaid's Tale and introduces so many well-formed and interesting characters. She also deepens some of the ones from her first tome. This is a MUST read if you've read the original.
Really liked Testaments... read it in a weekend.
Especially pleased that Margaret tied it so well TO Handmaid’s Tale, because it’s been years since I’ve read it.
Was worried I’d have troubled connecting it but did not.