Oh no! The Testaments doesn’t have the most promising beginning, and I have high hopes!
However, midway through the novel the pace quickened and the plot became interesting. More than that, I could hardly put it down.
There are many redeeming factors of The Testaments. Firstly, as I have seen many others comment, Aunt Lydia’s sections were thrilling, she is the worthy protagonist in this novel, and I would have happily read the whole length of the book in the realm of her diary. Secondly and purely stylistically I enjoyed the layout, with short chapters often a page or two long. This always entices me to continue reading, as I can say to myself ‘one more chapter’, and suddenly be engrossed in the final sections.
I also enjoyed the young narrators parts, those of Daisy (Jade), and Agnes. However, these verged on boring in the first half of the novel, which was 200 pages long I might add. It felt so polarised from Offred’s story in those moments; lacking the depth, terror and even the image of a totalitarian fear mongering regime so evident in the first novel. For example, we see powerful men being punished for their sexual deviances, nothing reminiscent of ‘her fault, her fault’. This could represent a change in the fictional time period, or it could stand for a more watered down and less thought out version of Gilead.
There are possible reasons for this, and many come with Atwood’s choice of characters. Including a protagonist from outside Gilead destroyed the sense of an all-encompassing, all-seeing rule, which undermines their power. Further, including Aunt Lydia’s section forewarned readers of the plots of those in power, and unlike The Handmaids Tale, we were linked in with the background intrigue. Therefore, there was less anticipating fear than in Offred’s blind narrative, and one of the most powerful tools, ambiguity, is destroyed.
Further, and perhaps in a superficial sense, I did not like the book cover. My copy of The Handmaid’s Tale that I studied over laboriously in school had the full length red dress, the face of the anonymous woman blacked out with writhing fingers, trapped and praying: ‘blessed be the fruit’. The Testaments is neon green! A colour with no significance whatsoever to its fictional world, it is instead one which is simply trendy. I believe that says quite a lot.
However, my review so far already summarises its main fault: it is too easy to compare to its predecessor. As a stand alone novel it is greatly executed, and remains tensely uncomfortable in parts. If you haven’t read it yet, and are an Atwood fan, such as myself, stay clear from the expectations that A) any of your questions from The Handmaids Tale will be answered with any clarity, and B) that any new and shocking tales of Gilead will be discovered. If you manage that, please let me know how, and enjoy!
I have to rate this novel based on my opinion, and it remains that I question its necessity. Although it is a page turner, it could never be a classic.
3 / 5 stars.
Please let me know your opinions! I am aware that this novel divides people, and I would love to know which side you guys are on. Does it live up to expectations?