Both accounts teem with lively detail and, though differing in their perspectives on the Republic, share an appealing youthful ingenuousness ... The transition from grim to grin isn’t without some bumpiness. A back story describing how Lydia was broken down into seeming submission to the regime contains material bleak even for black comedy. And Atwood has to detour into spoof gothic and semi-burlesque thriller to evade later risks of jarring discrepancy between suavely ironic tone and uncomfortable content ... What sweeps the book along, though, is its imaginative exuberance ... The twists and turns of an extravagantly suspenseful final race for freedom are done with bravura relish ... Shrewdly, instead of weakening The Handmaid’s Tale’s assured status as a horror-paradigm of ideological tyranny by stretching out its fearfulness, Atwood has complemented her menacing masterpiece with a mordantly entertaining look at the monstrosities of Gilead on the brink of its dis-integration.
[A] compelling sequel ... It’s a contrived and heavily stage-managed premise—but contrived in a Dickensian sort of way with coincidences that reverberate with philosophical significance ... Atwood’s sheer assurance as a storyteller makes for a fast, immersive narrative that’s as propulsive as it is melodramatic ... Atwood wisely focuses less on the viciousness of the Gilead regime (though there is one harrowing and effective sequence about its use of emotional manipulation to win over early converts to its cause), and more on how temperament and past experiences shape individual characters’ very different responses to these dire circumstances ... Atwood understands that the fascist crimes of Gilead speak for themselves—they do not need to be italicized, just as their relevance to our own times does not need to be put in boldface ... it’s worth remembering that the very ordinariness of Atwood’s Offred gave readers an immediate understanding of how Gilead’s totalitarian rule affected regular people’s lives. The same holds true of Agnes’s account in The Testaments, which is less an exposé of the hellscape that is Gilead than a young girl’s chronicle ... Atwood seems to be suggesting, do not require a heroine with the visionary gifts of Joan of Arc, or the ninja skills of a Katniss Everdeen or Lisbeth Salander—there are other ways of defying tyranny, participating in the resistance or helping ensure the truth of the historical record.
The Testaments opens in Gilead about 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s an entirely different novel in form and tone. Inevitably, the details are less shocking ... Atwood responds to the challenge of that familiarity by giving us the narrator we least expect: Aunt Lydia. It’s a brilliant strategic move that turns the world of Gilead inside out ... Aunt Lydia’s wry wit...endows The Testaments with far more humor than The Handmaid’s Tale or its exceedingly grim TV adaptation ... That’s the genius of Atwood’s creation. Aunt Lydia is a mercurial assassin: a pious leader, a ruthless administrator, a deliciously acerbic confessor ... Interlaced among her journal entries are the testimonies of two young women ... Their mysterious identities fuel much of the story’s suspense — and electrify the novel with an extra dose of melodrama ... The Testaments is not nearly the devastating satire of political and theological misogyny that The Handmaid’s Tale is. In this new novel, Atwood is far more focused on creating a brisk thriller than she is on exploring the perversity of systemic repression ... the fact that Atwood keeps challenging such categories is all part of her extraordinary effort to resist the chains we place on each other ... Praise be.
The Testaments is a hopeful book. It’s escapist. It’s a thriller. It’s a bit of a joyride ... she holds on to the central belief of the TV show, which is that Gilead is a dystopia with hope, that it will be destroyed by individual and extraordinary human beings ... That makes The Testaments fun to read. But it also means that this sequel feels a little less truthful, a little less likely to become immortal, than its predecessor ... This version of Lydia is a stone-cold survivor, someone who was determined to build a life for herself regardless of what she has to do to anyone else to get it. And Atwood writes her with evident glee ... it’s in the younger women’s contributions that The Testaments is at its weakest ... There’s a certain giddiness to Atwood’s writing: Look at these women working together; look at the cleverness of their plan; look at how clear it is that those who are good will succeed and those who are not will be punished. It’s a romp. But that giddiness is also what makes The Testaments feel slighter than The Handmaid’s Tale ... It’s fun to read. It’s beautifully written. But it feels less honest than The Handmaid’s Tale did.
... a rallying cry for activism that argues for the connectedness of societies and their peoples ... also an argument for the power of disgust ... Atwood’s task in returning to the world of her best-known work was a big one, but the result is a success that more than justifies her Booker prize shortlisting.
The Testaments is worthy of the literary classic it continues. That’s thanks in part to Atwood’s capacity to surprise, even writing in a universe we think we know so well. And she starts by making us root for dastardly Aunt Lydia ... Atwood is patient in unpacking Aunt Lydia’s intentions and executing her plan, and does so with a dash of keen mordant wit ... The Testaments builds in tension, morphing into a fraught tale of subterfuge and spycraft as it toggles between the three narratives, teasing how they might eventually intersect and why.
Atwood skirts around questions of her old heroine’s fate with the glee of a writer who knows she has her reader in the palm of her hand. Who can blame her for not playing fair? She gets to show off a little ... There may be no novelist better suited to tapping the current era’s anxieties than Margaret Atwood ... In the sequel, Atwood focuses on how tyrannical regimes destroy themselves. Her command of these mechanisms is, unsurprisingly, astonishing ... The contrasts The Testaments draws within Gilead are exceedingly blunt. Everyone who appears here is either monstrous — most of the men in this book are even worse than those of Handmaid’s — or heroic, aiding in ways big and small to the pursuit of justice ... Atwood deftly balances her three narrators as her plot hurtles forward, but her characterization is lacking ... It’s all very speedy but emotionally inert, Atwood lining up her pieces at the expense of a more rigorous engagement with interior experience ... The pacing is flawless. The prose is lean, mean, and charged ... B+.
The book may surprise readers who wondered, when the sequel was announced, whether Atwood was making a mistake in returning to her earlier work ... it seems to have another aim as well: to help us see more clearly the kinds of complicity required for constructing a world like the one she had already imagined, and the world we fear our own might become ... The Testaments addresses these and other questions in sidelong mentions, which help to make more concrete a world that, in the first novel—partly because of Offred’s fiercely enforced ignorance—felt abstract, like a landscape obscured by fog ... Precisely who is being addressed is a crucial and carefully considered matter in the novel ... We were all so busy imagining ourselves as Handmaids that we failed to see that we might be Aunts—that we, too, might feel, at the culmination of a disaster we created through our own pragmatic indifference, that we had no real choice.
The witnesses she portrays in her fiction aren’t saviors; they are (or hope to be) survivors, people constrained and compromised by circumstances, and especially worth listening to for that very reason. The Testaments highlights this fact by making a more loaded demand than its predecessor did—that readers place themselves in the seat of an oppressor, not one of the subjugated ... In Aunt Lydia—whose dry humor, ironic grandiosity, and contrarian instincts, not to mention her fame, call to mind Atwood’s own—Atwood continues to blur stark villain-victim distinctions. She gives readers a witness who has claimed not just agency for herself, but an agenda ... Bearing witness, [Atwood's] work has implied all along and now makes explicit, is a crucial step toward liberation in times of crisis, but witness-bearers shouldn’t mistake themselves for heroes—or hope to be heralded as heroes by others. Readers or listeners (or viewers, thanks to the Hulu TV adaptation) eager to anoint them risk confusing I was there testimony for an unblinkered claim to clarity and justice ... Aunt Lydia, having climbed up, can bear witness to what that has cost her. Wisdom like hers could hardly be more timely.
All of the best moments of The Testaments take place in Ardua Hall, a former college now occupied by the Aunts who rule over the female half of Gilead’s society ... Lydia’s plot is so involved that the other protagonists can’t help but feel like flimsy accessories by comparison. Nicole helps provide an outsider’s perspective on Gilead and the Mayday movement devoted to helping the people trapped there, but she reads as a generic dystopian YA protagonist, while Agnes comes across as a character from a feminist fairy tale ... While the characters are thin, Atwood breathes life into them with vibrant prose ... seems particularly keyed in to the #MeToo movement as it reveals that the oppression that the men of Gilead unleash on women is far from limited to official laws...Atwood is able to explore these issues in a way that feels honest without being exploitative, making the show feel even more gratuitous by comparison ... While The Testaments starts slow, the novel eventually delivers powerful drama that strips away the gray of moral relativism and lets its heroes shine through feats of courage, sacrifice, and cunning ... a far more empowering story of three women working together to make a difference for themselves and the world. It’s the sort of story that readers and viewers could use more of at a time when Gilead seems closer than ever.
It’s frankly not that difficult to guess how the arc of each major figure will play out, so that much of the satisfaction late in the novel derives from elements clicking into place in neat melodramatic fashion ... Probably the biggest surprise for readers or viewers will be the complex backstory given to Aunt Lydia, a former lawyer, judge, and rape counselor who becomes the brutal nemesis of the Handmaids, but who clearly has an agenda of her own. Her narration is far more self-reflective than we might have suspected ... at moments it seems like Katniss Everdeen has somehow wandered into Gilead. Each of these narrators is engaging in her own way – it’s possible Atwood couldn’t write a boring character if she tried—and even when writing flat-out melodrama, her prose is irresistible at the sentence and paragraph level, and her dialogue always rings true. If The Testaments finally seems like a lighter novel than The Handmaid’s Tale, replacing the chilling ambiguity of that novel’s conclusion with something a bit more heroic and hopeful, it may be simply because we need that hope a bit more now that we did in 1985.
Atwood picks up plot elements that originated in the TV series...and twists them to her own ends ... The Testaments owes more to the TV series than a handful of details. Its tone hews closer to the series than to the novel that precedes it ... The Testaments is fun to read in a way that The Handmaid’s Tale is not, fun in the same way that the TV series, for all its grim lighting and performances, is crowd-pleasing. Its characters are not powerless or crushed ... The Testaments comes adorned with much splendid writing. Atwood, who is also a poet, can turn a metaphor that feels both original and like something you’ve always known ... All of this and a corker of a plot, culminating in a breathless flight to freedom, makes The Testaments a rare treat.
Margaret Atwood’s powers are on full display ... Atwood’s new novel is all about narrative, the written and recorded testimonies of three women ... Illicit sex, of course, in this republic founded on sexual control, leads to the complicated, fascinating plot of The Testaments ... Atwood’s braided storyline leads to the best parts of the novel, the conversations between girls and women ... Everyone should read The Testaments and consider the true desires of human nature.
One needn’t have read The Handmaid’s Tale to get lost in the sequel ... Atwood, a masterly storyteller, spins a chilling tale ... As readers confront the horrors of Gilead, many of them will unquestionably see parallels to our contemporary society.
Atwood reclaims the right to consider such difficulties rather than simply imagine them. She is interested not in how people become degraded, as objects (that is so easily done), but how they became morally compromised ... The first book was good on the envy between women, when they have no power; The Testaments looks at collaboration – another vice of the oppressed ... You might call this interleaving of book and reader postmodern, but there is more here than a posh writer’s punning. Gilead, the fiction, is a kind of overgrown child. Atwood has taken it by the hand and made an open, free-running story, one that remains, as ever, deeply informed. In writing The Testaments, she also reclaims its world from all the people who think they own it now: the writers of fanfiction and the television producers (she told them they could not kill Lydia, apparently). A story that feels universal is, actually, hers: she gets to decide ... Perhaps no other writer has managed her own phenomenon with so much grace and skill. The Testaments is Atwood at her best, in its mixture of generosity, insight and control. The prose is adroit, direct, beautifully turned ... To read this book is to feel the world turning, as the unforeseeable shifts of the last few years reveal the same old themes. It is also a chance to see your own political life flash in front of your eyes, to remember how the world was 30 years ago and say: 'If she was right in 1985, she is more right today.'
Though The Testaments is primarily a political novel, ideological commitment is not its only characteristic. It is also a thriller, with a fast-paced plot featuring many entangled concealments and dramatic confrontations ... Of course the women write with a chiselled articulacy that could hardly be an authentic reflection of their circumstances: the blunt and shapely sentences and sly observations are all Atwood. But the fact that there is only ever one voice in this novel is not necessarily a weakness. Atwood’s writing is at its incisive best throughout this novel ... the cinematic feel of The Testaments, with its emphasis on a pivotal mystery (who is the mole in Gilead who is helping the Mayday resistance movement?), a gripping plot and a dramatic denouement, does seem to owe something to the tone of the Hulu series ... this remains a very personal novel. Atwood is not simply responding to our current anxieties, though she is clearly aware of what is on the collective mind... Her book is written to entertain, for that is a novelist’s business; but it is also her own testament, and a renewal of the warning of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Before we get lost in all the analysis and pontificating and political connect-the-dots surrounding Margaret Atwood’s new novel, let’s remember this: Atwood is a hell of a writer, and, whatever else it may be, The Testaments is a splendid tale, splendidly told ... Atwood could rest on her laurels and royalties, but, as you might expect from someone with her brilliant, restless intellect, she has more to say ... Aunt Lydia’s secrets and their uses drive the plot, which accelerates as the lives of the three narrators intertwine. Atwood moves gracefully from dystopian world-building to character study to breathless adventure, her map unerring.
... a crowd-pleasing page turner. Atwood leans in to the attractions of both her original novel, with its Scheherazade-style narration, and the TV series, with its resistance-minded heroine ... If a book must be groundbreaking to be a true classic, The Testaments can’t be ranked alongside its predecessor. Today, the divide between genre and literary fiction is more porous, and dystopian fiction is an established genre—in large part thanks to novels like The Handmaid’s Tale. But just as The Handmaid’s Tale was a response to the backlash against the women’s movements of the 1970s, The Testaments is equally of its time, drawing from contemporary politics in ways that resonate. Atwood remains a keen chronicler of power and the way status (or lack thereof) affects how it is leveraged, and seeing her explore that issue in Gilead once again is a pleasure.
Canonicity is very much at issue in The Testaments ... while many details sync with the TV show’s unfolding storyline, others appear to purposely diverge from what devoted viewers have been led to expect...Suffice it to say that certain nuances of The Testaments will be missed by those who have merely read The Handmaid’s Tale. All sequels presuppose a certain degree of background knowledge, but this is the first time you need a subscription to Hulu ... We are here dealing with something categorically different from a literary sequel. More accurately, The Testaments is a new installment in a multimedia franchise ... What if you were to read it without boning up on episode recaps? You’d find an engaging if largely insubstantial page turner ... The most disappointing effect of this streamlining is the way it flattens the writing ... it is in the subtle warping and twisting of values we share as our own that The Testaments is at its best ... a work of explanation ... Ms. Atwood has written one for the fans.
Atwood formally challenges herself to weave together three narrators, each with her own mixed motives and her own timeline of events ... Readers can easily follow this complex structure, because Atwood gives her three storytellers distinct voices ... Atwood offers a strong sense of narrative resolution and hope for political change. The results are unsettling. The book is an Orwellian dystopia given a Dickensian ending, with the truth revealed, identities discovered, and characters reunited. It is full of utopian hopes that may no longer be relevant, but that we must make relevant again.
The book builds its social commentary on gender and power into a plot-driven page turner about these women's machinations as they deal with their stifling circumstances ... As with The Handmaid's Tale, The Testaments contains a lot of gut punches ... And a lot of the time, it's women administering these gut punches to each other. Despite the awful men everywhere, one of the main themes The Testaments explores is how women hurt one another ... This Gilead isn't — and can't possibly be — as fresh and mind-blowing as it was to readers in 1985, but the sheer novelty of this expanded view allows her world to continue to surprise us ... Even if this Lydia is a great narrator, there is also a gaping hole: Atwood never makes it totally clear why Aunt Lydia does what she does ... The headstrong Daisy and sheltered Agnes pale in comparison with Lydia. Their voices are largely indistinguishable, and especially in Daisy's case, it becomes clear that Atwood hasn't quite mastered the art of speaking as a sulky teenage girl ... Atwood remains an unsentimental writer ... The Testaments might punch you in the gut, but it doesn't quite pull at your heartstrings ... Many readers will also spot the big reveals coming far before they arrive ... Testaments is more than 400 pages, but a fast and even thrilling more-than-400 pages. The joy of the book isn't in the plot twists but in seeing these women hammer away at the foundations of Gilead.
Following up on a book like this was never going to be easy and The Testaments has a hard time of it ... While The Testaments will answer some of the many questions readers have put to Atwood over the years, it barely qualifies as a dystopia, and as a work of fiction it falls far short of Atwood’s best books. The hypnotic intensity of the prose in The Handmaid’s Tale is sadly absent here, as is the playful inventiveness of recent Atwood novels such as Penelopiad or Hagseed, or the wily depths of earlier ones such as Alias Grace or The Blind Assassin. Many of the plot twists in The Testaments seem predictable and contrived ...
Too often The Testaments reads like a novel pursued by its TV progeny, rushing to tie up the loose plot ends and have the final word ... Now is a good, even urgent, moment to be thinking about dystopias, but The Testaments offers frustratingly little to extend our knowledge or deepen our understanding. Unlike The Handmaid’s Tale, or perhaps because of it, the ground it treads is already well-worn. By inhabiting much the same territory as its predecessor, the sequel ends up feeling curiously dated. Being told in retrospect, it neuters its own menace.
...a sobering, yet almost joyful story of how totalitarianism propagates itself—and how it may be ended ... Knowing that Gilead eventually falls means there are no real surprises in The Testaments, but surprise isn’t really Ms. Atwood’s aim; rather, her narrators represent the paths that may be taken in efforts to dismantle regressive regimes ... the biggest surprise of The Testaments is not part of the narrative at all; it is Ms. Atwood’s dogged optimism, which permeates the book. Whereas The Handmaid’s Tale lingered on the allure of power for those living under oppression, this new work instead gives context to that dynamic and reveals that for some, undermining in the guise of cooperation is a method of resistance ... a reminder that even in the most hopeless of times, there will be those that fight, both from without and within; the important part, always, is to continue to resist.
... in many ways an even richer [novel than The Handmaid's Tale ... Atwood [is] so brilliant at writing about the complicated inner lives and interrelationships of women ... feels less like a sequel than a companion piece to The Handmaid’s Tale (though I suspect it won’t be as rewarding if you haven’t read the previous book). Details from the previous book are filled in and connections to some of its plotlines are gradually revealed, like the colors of a terrifyingly vivid painting slowly emerging. There are, as in the previous book, welcome bits of ink-dark humor ... what makes the book most mesmerizing is Atwood’s working of the everyday into the unthinkable; her way of conveying how, in different degrees, these characters came to accept their reality, and even to become complicit in it.
... this story holds much more humour and much more hope than its predecessor. It is also wise—Atwood is, after all, much older and wiser now than she was 35 years ago ... clever and astute and funny and tender. It is defiantly feminist. It tells you that ultimately a true sisterhood is all that matters, all that can be counted on to save the world ... an exploration of [Aunt Lydia's] character and history in The Testaments is both intriguing and welcome...Aunt Lydia in The Testaments is a fascinating, complicated and intriguing woman, and if there’s one thing Atwood does well, it’s giving her readers a new perspective on an old idea ... The Handmaid’s Tale was about oppressive regimes, crimes against women and patriarchal sexual economics of women’s bodies in a claustrophobic theocracy. The Testaments furthers those elements without repetition and without bludgeoning readers with moralistic pedantic diatribes. Atwood is sharp and deft in her writing—she maintains her stance on the subjugation of women, on the importance of female bonds and on the sheer determination and intelligence of women to challenge what seems like an airtight hierarchy without ever repeating the patterns or even motifs of The Handmaid’s Tale. Gilead may have been created 35 years ago and has not changed in essence, but Atwood adds new elements to it now, just enough to give her plot room to grow; just enough for her characters to figure out who they are, what they want and how far they’ll go to make their world change. There are nods to aspects of The Handmaid’s Tale here, but Atwood has moved on from there, regardless of the recent resurgence in interest in the book following the TV show’s popularity.
... a plump, pacy, witty and tightly plotted page-turner that transports us straight back to the dark heart of Gilead and seems to take great pleasure in providing answers to many of Atwood’s readers’ questions ... What is surprising, given that so many of Atwood’s actual details remain so gloriously dark, is that the story’s outcomes are anything but ... Where the first book traded so pithily and memorably in obfuscation, despair and darkness, the sequel sees the lamps slowly lit ... hints of something that might amount to a happy ending...Which actually feels a touch disappointing ... There is no doubt that Atwood is on top form here. But still it feels as if something crucial is missing ... Or perhaps not missing enough, for didn’t the strength of the first book lie precisely in its daring ambiguities, its unapologetic refusal to elucidate? ... Another problem, which becomes more troubling as the novel unfolds, is the lack of emotional subtext, or indeed sometimes any subtext at all. In The Testaments, what you see is what you get, with any possibility of equivocation, shading or real complexity sacrificed again and again to pace and plot. Perhaps because of this, there are few, if any, chances to feel moved on behalf of these characters ... The Testaments can feel as if it’s already decided what it thinks. And what we should think, too.
Like so many Atwoodean characters before her, Aunt Lydia is formidably intelligent and subversively funny, though usually when only the reader is listening, and one step ahead of the men who believe her to be their subordinate and tool ... There is much to like about The Testaments, and I dare you, if you are a fan of either the original novel or the show, to be able to put it down. But The Testaments is a novel that, both aesthetically and in its critical reception, is more about political activism and our currently apocalyptic cultural zeitgeist than about strict literary merit, and it will not hold up to history under the same scrutiny as other Atwood novels for a few very clear reasons. Chief among these (and this may be what Myerson meant by 'lack of subtext') is that none of the main characters of The Testaments provide any psychological surprises ... think of The Testaments less as one of the last great novels Atwood will give us (she is eighty, and I join her many fans in hoping she will live and write for another twenty years) than as an earnest political entreaty she is using her considerable platform to make ... Although Atwood can tell a story like nobody’s business, The Testaments reduces its women characters rather than complicates them, and is written towards a reductive audience as well.
Atwood used to dismiss the notion that her fiction was 'secretly telling the truth,' but The Testaments suggests she’s changed her mind ... The Testaments offers a tour of the power structures that Offred, in her confinement, can’t see. Yet its vision of those structures, provocative though it is, flattens both her fiction and our shared reality, doubling down on the original novel’s least compelling arguments while abandoning its most interesting speculations ... The original novel is a portrait of confinement, following Offred’s delimited gaze as she sits around waiting to get pregnant ... The Testaments, by contrast, is all heroic action. This is, in part, because Atwood has widened her purview to three non-Handmaid narrators. But it’s also because she’s grown less interested in speculation ... Whereas Handmaid is interested in the minds of Offred and the women and men who surround her, in The Testaments we are presented with one-sided characters. The women of Gilead are either innocent or conniving, and the men are all cartoonish sadists, literal wife killers, and child rapists. The problem goes beyond flat writing. In The Testaments, Atwood is no longer speculating about a possible future so much as commenting on what she believes to be an inescapable present, one in which men are simpleton oppressors whom women can either enable or resist. Yes, Atwood seems to be telling us, it could happen here; in fact, it’s happening under Trump, just as she predicted it would. And without great feats of courage, we will never drive the bastards out ...Bring an aging leader together with a couple of feisty teens; use the enemy’s own logic to expose the truth of their crimes. If only it were so simple. The Testaments, in the end, is too much a fantasy to offer us much guidance in the age of Trump and too literal to offer space for solace and speculation.
... satisfyingly full of answers; a gift ... The developments will delight fans of the original novel and the television adaptation on Hulu ... quickly distinguishes itself from the oppressive tone of the original novel, folding in events from the TV series and marching briskly forward with June’s battle-ready spirit. Elements of humor abound, with wry reminders of Gilead’s origins ... Violence is no longer meant to shock or sink in. That wouldn’t work after all this time, all this pain. Now it’s a plot device that interlaces with hope and heroism and intrigue to carry a great story. In other words, like a feature film ... may not endure as a monumental work of literature like The Handmaid’s Tale, but that surely was not Atwood’s goal. She has a story to tell. It’s her story. She owns it. People want more of it, and she’s going to keep telling it as long as she can and in any format she chooses.
It’s an immersive, well-constructed book, as I’d expect any novel by Margaret Atwood to be. The first half of my copy is filled with light pencil marks noting well-turned phrases, sharp observations, and subtle emotional truths ... It’s a fast-paced yarn featuring a range of classic adventure-novel tropes: mysterious parentage and secret identities; spying, friendship, and short-lived teenage romance, capped off with a climactic seafaring adventure. The plot is propulsive, the characters compelling, the world closely and thoughtfully observed. And yet, The Testaments largely lacks the power of its predecessor. Why? ...
The cultural omnipresence of the Handmaid as a shorthand for female oppression has had the counterintuitive effect of domesticating the bizarre, dark world that Atwood originally imagined. The second book simply can’t land with the same shock of the strange that the first one did ... Perhaps the deepest perversion in The Handmaid’s Tale is the way women betray each other. By rehabilitating Aunt Lydia in The Testaments, Atwood steps back from the darkness of that particular abyss. Under Aunt Lydia’s expert tutelage, two teenagers are able to bring down a totalitarian government with relatively little difficulty, relying on an array of old-fashioned tricks...and clean, straightforward heroism. In this way, The Testaments feels oddly out of step with its time. After all, the days of propaganda for girlhood are largely over. The message is out: Sexism isn’t just back; it never went away. If anything, the propaganda machine has adopted the opposite tactic. Some days, it’s hard to believe there’s anything good about being a woman at all ... I...wonder if there might be deeper comfort in a confrontation with messier and more difficult truths.
... piercingly relevant, not only because the backstory continues to show how human rights can be eroded through a blend of power grab and compromise, but because it echoes international politics and the refugee crisis today ... With Cat’s Eye majesty, Atwood nails the spirit of these women as she investigates the head Aunt’s scary complexities ... If The Handmaid’s Tale chills to the marrow, its sequel surges along with a sort of dark ebullience, absorbing as a thriller and ultimately hopeful even as it highlights the dangers that always lie in wait.
In two important respects, however, this is a weaker and less satisfying book. The first is voice, the second is place ... Three of the Nicole scenes are so obvious, so made for a film franchise – The Hunger Games in bonnets – that I almost laughed. There’s a Karate Kid montage as Nicole learns to fight, a tough-girl makeover complete with tattoo and green hair and a night spent by Nicole, chastely, in the arms of the muscular, yet sensitive, Garth ... Agnes and Nicole, unformed and formulaic, are less interesting than Offred ... The horrors and repressions of Gilead, so shocking on first encounter, so convincingly realised, are here repeated. If you’ve seen one ululating birth, one man torn apart by Handmaids, you’ve seen them all. Atwood’s prose is as powerful as ever, tense and spare...Her word games are ingenious. She forces you to think about language and how it can be made to lie. The plot is propulsive and I finished in six hours flat. But if The Handmaid’s Tale was Atwood’s mistresspiece, The Testaments is a misstep. The Handmaid’s Tale ended on a note of interrogation: 'Are there any questions?' Those questions were better left unanswered.
... an addictively readable, fast-paced adventure towards the collapse of Gilead ... a broader, multi-perspective book, which takes us both further inside the regime and provides an outsider’s view ... I wished Atwood had gone further into Agnes’s eventual crisis of faith, which gets somewhat swept away in the book’s thrillingly action-packed final sections ... For all that The Handmaid’s Tale may have been coopted as feminist iconography in the #MeToo era, Atwood isn’t in the habit of writing simplistic tales of feminine solidarity ... Details of the horrors of Gilead unfolded slowly in The Handmaid’s Tale, with its ambiguous ending; The Testaments can feel clunkily expositional and overly neat by contrast, explaining rather than suggesting ... builds on an existing world, and it has a built-in fan base, which it will surely please. It solves some of the mysteries of Gilead rather than stoking them: whether that’s a good thing or not depends what you want from fiction. But as a reading experience it’s also surprisingly fun, with its plucky young heroines and juicy (if predictable) plot twists. I was gripped and gobbled it up – and not just because of the time pressures of that broken embargo ... a hopeful reminder that resistance is possible and such regimes do eventually always fall.
One of the things that Margaret Atwood accomplishes in The Testaments...is enlarging our perspective by focusing on the aftermath of assault. This engaging sequel...tempers the first novel’s grim vision ... What The Testaments proves—reassuringly—is that Gilead’s hegemony was not just incomplete but flawed from its inception: someone was always in fact keeping an eye on the Eye. The horror of the Handmaids’ suffering, which in The Handmaid’s Tale was somehow both sanctioned and ignored, is somewhat mitigated by the revelation that it was always being witnessed ... The Testaments is a text that believes, quite strongly, that dossiers showing wrongdoing by the power brokers matter. Its premise is that if the truth is recorded, exposed, and circulated, consequences will be meted out and power will crumble ... This strikes me as an anemic optimism. If Me Too (not to mention impeachment) has taught us anything, it is that testimony does not dislodge power. We careen from outrage to outrage in a rollicking attention-deficit economy that most perpetrators are able to outwait or outshout. And even when they don’t, no one can agree on how revelations about past abuse should affect the offender’s long-term treatment. Soon enough, they return, and rarely are they much resisted.
...the Testaments feels much less scary and rather more camp [than The Handmaid's Tale ... The first half of the novel is gripping and full of incident, a deft balance of horror and wit. Atwood is at her best channelling Aunt Lydia, whose acid irony ripples through the prose ... But overall the tone is unstable, lurching from tense confessional to Shakespearean lost-sibling farce. For all the blood, the atmosphere isn’t nearly as menacing as it was in The Handmaid’s Tale, where the boredom Offred endured in her bedroom was every bit as chilling as the bodies of traitors hanging from the Wall. With three narrators—two of whom are rather callow—you lose the intensity ... the lack of psychological complexity that may leave fans disappointed ... The Testaments is an enjoyable romp but it’s not the blazing critique of totalitarianism that many fans were expecting. Nor does it advance our understanding of Gilead.
Atwood, as expected, deftly develops the numerous, carefully foreshadowed plot surprises with her saber-sharp prose and clever wit ... exemplary cautionary tales of a brilliantly imagined world that is all too real. Each stands alone, but reading The Handmaid’s Tale first informs The Testaments. Together, they are a remarkable diptych of disaster, a monumental achievement by a revered writer. They are a blaring warning for what might happen here ... an ideal sequel to an already perfect novel. Its brilliance is that it manages to tell an absorbing story at the same time it provides a haunting and chilling lesson for the world today.
Now and then Atwood’s wit lights up the prevailing misery ... Atwood’s feminism has always been subtle and she remains too wise—too cynical?—to be a fervent supporter of any movement; through The Testaments’ many female characters, she explores with a novelist’s complexity the absence of easy solutions to sharp questions about equality between men and women ... The crucial connection between Atwood and the metoo uprising lies here: that changing sexual practices can hold the key to political renewal or increased oppression ... Towards the close, The Testaments turns into a spy-thriller cum girls’-own-adventure. It is stirring stuff, vintage storytelling, but ultimately the young heroines’ pluck and resilience come to seem implausible. Nor are the first-person voices of their testimonies distinct enough; they ask to be taken at face value, and lack self-deception or irony—the direct conventions of film realism have overruled more literary craft. Yet, with the upbeat denouement—a classic fairy-tale ending—Atwood, our Lady Oracle, makes a promise to us that, at this time of public turmoil and depravity, change is coming, and that is the deep function of a fairy tale, to hold out a belief in change, and a possible end to injustice.
Handmaid is a master class in patriarchy. It scrutinizes the misogyny underlying modern (or then-modern, but, really, still-modern) American gender discourse. It’s in this sense, at the level of political insight, that The Testaments doesn’t stand up as a sequel. The Testaments is a primer on patriarchy, showing how girls are indoctrinated into it and how adult women become complicit in its maintenance. The novel re-emphasizes that cooperation with patriarchy may be a survival tactic but offers little else ... If anything, The Testaments feels old-fashioned in ways that The Handmaid’s Tale oddly doesn’t ... While The Testaments drops some of its political threads, it’s a wonderfully-written, absorbing novel. The events are genuinely intriguing, and Atwood’s style is reliably masterful. In a flooded market of dystopian fiction, The Testaments stands firmly upon its literary roots, readable and elegant.
... a deliberate reaction to current politics. Although there are obvious nods to the rise of the New Right that helped inspire the original tale in the 1980s, this is a novel of and for the Trump era ... The enormous popularity of the show and the ubiquity of the costume could derail the originality of a literary sequel, but Atwood has deftly avoided this pitfall ... Aunt Lydia's backstory and ongoing political machinations, even in her dotage as the old-school doyenne of Gilead in its dying days, are the key to the brilliance of this novel. Aunt Lydia drives the plot by bringing the loose ends and significant characters together, and her chapters are chilling, cunning, and razor sharp.
... the book’s first half is a masterclass in storytelling and suspense ... does fall prey to the danger of multiple narrators. The voice of 369B is less convincing, the twists far more obvious, her motivations and capacity for memory and loss bizarrely obscured. There is a tendency to direct the reader when it comes to the more mechanical aspects of the plot ... Even Lydia’s narrative, arguably the most accomplished, does not escape from the occasional heavy hand...Her wry, doom-laden asides, which often close a section or chapter, start to seem formulaic by the second half ... Lydia is nonetheless a formidable creation and, ironically, the beating heart of this sequel. Like a master sculptor, Atwood has taken the imprint of her former character and used it to cast something that is both new and chillingly recognisable.
In The Testaments, Atwood explicitly wears the mantle that The Handmaid's Tale conferred upon her: that is, literary social critic and seer extraordinaire ... all about suspense: It's plot driven, whereas The Handmaid's Tale was a novel of vision, voice and mood ... What The Testaments lacks in eeriness, it gains in entertainment. Atwood herself seems lighter, even a little frivolous here: For instance, she bestows goofy names on some of the Aunts (like Aunt Estée and Aunt Sarahlee) and has them sit down for tea in the Schlafly Café. Dare I say, The Testaments is more 'fun' to read than its predecessor ... It's a tribute to the greatness of The Handmaid's Tale that I and so many other readers, particularly female readers, have been willing and eager to re-enter Atwood's sinister dystopian republic of Birthmobiles and Prayvaganzas. If I sound mildly disappointed in The Testaments, it's paradoxically because the novel so kindly (and perhaps a little too easily) gives me what I most want: that is, the promise of an end to Gilead.
...a wild ride ... The structure of the three testimonies of the three characters works well in this book, propelling the story and the fate of Gilead ... these three characters are tested. And we are treated to a book that satisfies many of the questions left hanging at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale by a writer who seems to enjoy this ride.
Will Aunt Lydia continue to go along in order to get along? That’s among the novel’s key questions—one that will keep you glued until the very end ... what’s fascinating about [the other narrators] is how each represents a different thread in the fabric of Gilead’s history, threads they must pull at to unspool the systematic damage that’s been done over the course of a generation. Is there hope for freedom? Is a post-Gilead society possible? If there is, the book seems to be saying, maybe there’s hope for us too, now.
Atwood is a hell of a writer, and, whatever else it may be, The Testaments is a splendid tale, splendidly told ... Aunt Lydia’s secrets and their uses drive the plot, which accelerates as the lives of the three narrators intertwine. Atwood moves gracefully from dystopian world-building to character study to breathless adventure, her map unerring.
Current discussion of The Handmaid’s Tale tends to center on ways in which American politics and attitudes feel appallingly close to those of Gilead ... What gets lost in these analyses is what an extraordinary piece of literature The Handmaid’s Tale is. The story is fueled by a sense of urgency and shaped by intimacy ... There are traces here and there of this stylistic genius throughout The Testaments, but they are rare. The story moves along briskly enough, but this book is about a hundred pages longer than The Handmaid’s Tale, and none of that length feels necessary. There’s a great deal of detail that adds nothing vital to what we know of Gilead, its citizens, or its enemies. Paired with the problems in character development, all this means that this sequel is not quite the masterpiece its predecessor is. Which is not to say that it’s terrible. Read as a novel of suspense, it’s satisfying enough. The best way to approach it, though, might be as fanfiction. This is not an insult. Fan-authored stories using established characters and settings have long been a vibrant part of fantasy and science-fiction culture. Fanfic is driven by a reader’s desire to know more about a favorite character or a beloved world by inventing more, and this longing doesn’t sound all that different than what Atwood said inspired The Testaments ... There’s a whole community of fans exploring the Republic of Gilead on their own, and their imaginations are not bounded by Atwood’s text.
...a propulsive narrative that owes more than a little to the drive and momentum found in the wildly popular television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. If the earlier book was a dystopian allegory, The Testaments more closely resembles a thriller, complete with multiple plot twists, double- and triple-crosses, and a daring escape from captivity by car and boat. The languorous pace of The Handmaid’s Tale is jettisoned in favor of a narrative that races from one event to the next, driving the reader forward by the sheer force of the storytelling. What gets lost in this transaction is the careful attention to metaphor that infused the first book: there is nothing in The Testaments to compare, for example, to the extended symbolism of eyes and seeing that ran throughout the earlier novel ... What Atwood has produced, then, is a work that is sure to change nobody’s mind: it will delight her fans and annoy her detractors.
There are no black people in The Handmaid’s Tale, even though, as the critic Priya Nair has argued, the story ‘takes from the oppression of black women and applies it indiscriminately to white women’. Once you see this, you can’t unsee it. The narrator is kidnapped and separated from her husband and child; her name is changed and she’s forbidden to read or write; she’s raped in order to have a chance of bearing children, who will be taken away from her ... It is, as they say, problematic. And now: the sequel, The Testaments ... The Testaments is careful, too careful, to defer to the television version of Gilead, and is careful not to restrict the television writers now making Season 4 ... the novel is one long caper: how will Aunt Lydia get her incriminating information, whatever it is, out to the foreign press and bring down the regime? ... I can’t quite work out why it needs to be so complicated ... It might once have been the case that all it would take to bring down a ruler was clear evidence of his corruption. If The Testaments were truly a novel for our times, after Aunt Lydia and her allies had succeeded in getting the documents out, after having risked, as they do in Atwood’s book, discovery and death in almost every chapter, journalists would write about them; and nothing would happen.
Like all good dystopian writers, [Atwood] presents us with a cracked mirror in which we are asked to see distorted images of ourselves ... part of the fun of The Testaments is seeing how even a ruthless caste system can’t fully extinguish the individuality of each writer’s voice, whether this is the eye-rolling sulkiness of Daisy, the primness of Agnes, or the unexpected literariness of Lydia ... The main problem is that The Testaments is a sequel to a much better book ... a far brasher, flashier affair, full of the plot hooks and cliché-rich dialogue you would expect from a Hollywood blockbuster, and occasionally even winking at its own contrivance ... It’s a rattling yarn, but that’s not just because the narrative moves so quickly; it’s because it is full of loose cogs and broken springs. Male characters are either wholly absent or cartoons of depravity ... Worse still, whereas in The Handmaid’s Tale Gilead was genuinely terrifying, here it verges on the camp ... many things, including a gloomy warning about the current political climate, a celebration of sisterhood, and a sharp-eyed analysis of the power of stories to reshape the world. But it is not a great novel.
... crackles with a rare electricity from its first page ... Atwood terrifies, teases (Aunt Lydia is wickedly funny) and sometimes she breaks her characters’ hearts ... There is not a dull voice in this propulsive narrative, not a moment that doesn’t drive it all forward while still enabling the reader to feel what it is to be trapped in Gilead ... As it charges to a wise and and moving end, The Testaments answers the important questions left from the original. It also addresses, very directly, the way to survive in dark times, namely collecting and documenting the stories of corrupt leaders, and then exposing them. If back in the relative innocence of the 1980s The Handmaid’s Tale made readers shiver over what the patriarchy has already wrought and could do again in our future, The Testaments reminds us of the power of truth in the face of evil.
... allows Atwood to return to themes of subjugation, sexual crimes and sisterhood without getting boxed in by her original protagonist Offred, the Handmaids and all the protests and parodies stored within those red robes and white bonnets. Nothing Atwood could write could give that image more power than it already has; it’s complete ... With one sickeningly inevitable choice Atwood has made, The Testaments is even darker, but for most of the book these three particular narrators are shielded from the very, very worst of Gilead either through childhood innocence, some limited personal power or the actions of other women. As such none have quite the raw intensity of Offred’s shock journey from regular American woman to Handmaid concubine in a sinister theocracy, though one of the strands does pose juicy questions around survival, complicity and manipulation when all the choices around you are bad ... There is a lot of plot, more than you’ll expect, and TV showrunners will eat this up, especially the sections with serious YA appeal which will undoubtedly turn off some readers. The espionage thriller storyline of The Testaments is more intimate and plausible, within the constraints of Atwood’s original, chilling conception, than where the Hulu show has already found itself ... There are moments of touching solidarity and sacrifice throughout, but Atwood isn’t writing fanfiction of her own dystopian novel. The sequel is able to buoy you as a reader in a way The Handmaid’s Tale had no interest in doing, but sit with it and it’s still slippery and at times satisfyingly unsatisfying. This is an intriguing book from a woman who knows she can do bleak any day of the week.
... a hybrid marvel—a spy thriller and a fictive memoir about survival, complicity, self-delusion, and sabotage in a time kind of like a stylized now ... Atwood herself seems eager to push past the political shorthand of the iconic costume, as well as Offred’s constrained perspective.
The Handmaid’s Tale was sly and subversive. It demanded to be taken seriously. The Testaments is lighter; often relying on rather weak jokes ... plotlines converge in a way which is almost Victorian ... The highlight of the book is the memoirs of Aunt Lydia. They deal with torture, moral compromise and how to resist a totalitarian regime, and they do so with sensitivity. The plot which is focused on the younger characters is less believable. It seems written with an eye to the Occupy Movement, and #MeToo: what brings down regimes of terror is plucky young women, tattooed go-betweens and secretly resentful wise old owls. It is too much of its time ... The genius of Aunt Lydia is in creating a morally complex character; by contrast, the ghastly Commander Judd, one of the founders of Gilead, is just a baddie, with a wicked heart and a rotten soul. There is no attempt to ask why this man became what he has become. He is there purely as a lecherous hypocrite. Evil is usually more complex than that ... Atwood is undoubtedly clever, and knows how to turn a sentence and keep the reader sprightly over the plot. It will no doubt appeal to those who have never read her other works ... But as I read it, I was reminded of a different Gilead entirely; Marilynne Robinson’s book with that title. It tried to explain how to be good in a world gone wrong; but Atwood’s sequel shows merely how to be angry at the world as it is.
... delivers the promised answers and closure ... a rallying cry to become conscious of the stories we are told, and tell, and the roles we assume. Which choices would we make if in Aunt Lydia’s shoes? Which parts of history do we wish to claim as our own? Which do we reject? Becoming aware of the mythos that constrains us also means we can collectively help dismantle it. As readers, we can imagine and work toward a better world.
...a shrewdly suspenseful tale of survival and resistance. And Atwood’s wit is phosphorescent ... Finding that subversive female energy flowing molten beneath the surface of chilling Gilead is positively therapeutic ... For all the wrenching violence and heart-pounding action in The Testaments...it is the droll and righteous commentary that sets this novel alight. Both Gilead novels face head-on the horrors of tyranny and find some glimmer of hope in the redemptive act of bearing witness, a courageous expression of dissent and declaration of freedom in all its hectic and essential splendor.
... confident, magnetic ... Atwood does not dwell on the franchise or current politics. Instead, she explores favorite themes of sisterhood, options for the disempowered, and freedom's irresistible draw. Atwood's eminently rewarding sequel revels in the energy of youth, the shrewdness of old age, and the vulnerabilities of repressive regimes.
Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants ... This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed ... what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become ... Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.