‘The Testaments’ Review

Ana Peres Bogo, Writer

In her newest work, novelist Margaret Atwood answers the many questions left by one of her most famous books, “The Handmaid’s Tale.” “The Testaments,” recently released on Sept. 10, is a page-turning story set 15 years after the ending of the first book. With a (somewhat) more hopeful message in the form of the anti-Gilead organization Mayday, Atwood takes the reader back inside Gilead’s authoritarian walls. 

The story is set in a dystopian future where the United States of America has become the Republic of Gilead. In this society, people are divided into categories based on gender, race and class. Anyone who praises a greater being that is not the God approved by the Gilead government either disappears, is resettled or simply exiled. It is not difficult to see where Atwood pulls inspiration from. In a 2017 interview with Sojourners Magazine, Atwood confirmed that her book was based on what she felt was a plausible “purportedly Christian” alternate future for America. 

The new book has a different structure than the first installment, which was written as the testimony of a single character. In the new book, three women tell the story in segments. Each character gets several chapters to herself to narrate her story in the first person.

A few iconic characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale” are brought back, such as the bloodthirsty Aunt Lydia. The reader also gets to know Daisy, an angsty teenager who lives in Canada, and Agnes, a privileged girl born and raised in Gilead. 

The three characters are uniquely compelling because they come from extremely different lives and viewpoints. Daisy is rebellious, while Agnes is confused and becomes more depressed throughout the narrative. Aunt Lydia is a mystery: until the last pages, it is very hard to know which side she is on. Their various backgrounds give the reader a broader sense of the world the story is set in.

Atwood has the amazing ability to humanize long-hated characters. Through flashbacks, we meet a very different Aunt Lydia. Just like Offred, the main character of the prequel, she is a survivor. She was chosen to be an Aunt, an important authoritarian figure on female morality, facing dire consequences if she refused to comply.  

There is hope, in the form of an organization. Mayday, based in Canada, wants to end the Gilead regime. The organization is only briefly mentioned in the first book, and Offred does not know if it is even real. In “The Testaments,” Daisy leads the reader inside the organization, revealing how information gets to and from Gilead, the way its operations work and the type of people who participate in it. 

As always, Atwood tackles the different types of violence experienced by women on a daily basis. A sexual assault at a doctor’s appointment and the subsequent reporting of the assault, the value of women as dependent on the ability to have children and the imposing desire of men to dictate even women’s clothing are just a few situations that Atwood brings into the narrative.  

In “The Testaments,” Atwood delves even deeper into the social procedures of Gilead than she did in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Explored in detail are the process of choosing a husband, how one becomes an Aunt and how people in power maintain their status regardless of their horrible actions. For example, a powerful political figure in Gilead kills his extremely young wives and still maintains his position.   

Atwood brings back this fascinating world with twists that continue to surprise. Humanizing well-known characters and demonizing others, she reveals the human side of even the most horrible characters. In one of her best books yet, she creates a thriller that is appealing and impossible to put down.