The testaments : a novel

by Margaret Atwood

Hardcover, 2019

Status

Available

Publication

New York, NY : Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2019.

Description

When the van door slammed on Offred’s future at the end of The handmaid’s tale, readers had no way of telling what lay ahead. With The testaments, the wait is over. Margaret Atwood’s sequel picks up the story more than 15 years after Offred stepped into the unknown, with the explosive testaments of three female narrators from Gilead.

Media reviews

Agency and strength, 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 very act of writing or recording one’s experiences, Atwood argues, is “an act of hope.” Like messages placed in bottles tossed into the sea, witness testimonies count on someone, somewhere, being there to read their words [...]

User reviews

LibraryThing member richardderus
All three stars are for Aunt Lydia's sections. Agnes is annoying, a lump of nothing as required by her upbringing; it didn't make her any fun at all to read about. Daisy is intolerable, both for her backstory and her impossibly selflessly perfect nature; we're unsurprised at her actions because she is The Chosen One.

Try this: Only read Aunt Lydia's sections, flipping quickly past the character-as-mouthpiece young women. You'll get an interesting sidebar to the amazing The Handmaid's Tale. Aunt Lydia's story is, in fact, better than the original book.

I'll only get yelled at if I say more so that's it.
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LibraryThing member NeedMoreShelves
Let's be clear: The Testaments is no Handmaid's Tale. As a sequel - even as an individual work of fiction - it doesn't measure up to the brilliance that is its predecessor.

What it is, however, is closure. For all of us who have yearned to know what happened - did she make it out - did Gilead ever fall - The Testaments brings answers to our questions. And it does so as a strong, engaging, fascinating work of fiction.

Atwood uses three voices to tell Gilead's continuing story, and while I found them all engaging, the voice of the Aunt was the most compelling for me. I found this novel to be a quick read - I was entirely engaged from page one, and didn't want to put it down until I had reached the end.

I think, for those of us who have loved this novel over the years, The Testaments will be satisfying. It doesn't reach the same levels as some of Atwood's previous work, but it is still a solid and welcome work of fiction.
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LibraryThing member bragan
This is, of course, the long-belated sequel to Atwood's classic The Handmaid's Tale. I read the original novel back in the 90s and don't remember a lot of specifics about it (although from what I do remember, I am positive it would read very differently to me now than it did then). I've also seen the TV adaptation, or at least the first two seasons.

Knowing what an impact The Handmaid's Tale the novel has had, and having fairly fresh in my mind just how powerful and disturbing and relevant the TV series felt, it was hard not to have high expectations of this sequel. Which is too bad, because...

Well. It's not a bad book, to start with. I'm not sure Atwood is capable of writing a bad book. The writing in his one flowed along nicely, and it was an engaging enough read. The plot isn't much, but the depictions of life in Gilead are always interesting, in their own depressing way.

But it's impossible not to feel like it ought to have been something more. That there ought to be a lot of new things for this sequel to say to us, in this world we're living in today. But mostly it just all felt... familiar. More of the same. Readable enough, yes. But powerful? Not really.

I suppose it does try to say some interesting things about complicity and collaboration and the possibility of bringing down the system from the inside, with what it does with the character of Aunt Lydia. But none of it feels particularly deep, I'm afraid. And while this version of Lydia is interesting... Well, I almost feel bad saying it, but I think I find the version from the TV series more so.

Rating: It's hard to know how to rate this, because it's almost impossible to divorce the reality of it from the expectation. And maybe divorcing the two isn't really the right thing to do, anyway. With that in mind, I'm giving it a 3.5/5.
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LibraryThing member Zoes_Human
I started this book yesterday afternoon, and, with breaks for eating and other necessities, I read into the night until my face hurt and my eyes could no longer focus. At 7am this morning, I stumbled from my bed, grabbed a cup of coffee, and went right back to it. It has been a long time since I was so invested in a book that I consumed more than 400 pages in a day and a half.

I was nervous when this book was announced. I couldn't help but wonder if this book had been produced by the sort of pressures that come with having a hugely successful show, rather than the passion of an artist with a story to tell. Would it let me down? And how could it possibly live up to the first novel, which was a life-altering experience for me?

But I need not have feared. This isn't The Handmaid's Tale come again, but rather, more satisfyingly, the story of Gilead that we need today. Atwood neatly and deftly ties together both books and the Hulu series, though one needn't necessarily have seen the show to appreciate this book.

I am tired but wholly satisfied.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
Hugely hyped, wonderfully executed. This follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale is told from three points of view 15 years later. Aunt Lydia‘s and two other characters, whose pasts unfold as the story progresses. I loved the choices of which characters she highlights and felt the ending was completely satisfying. It took me a short time to get into it, but the audiobook is so well done that I found myself trying to find extra time to listen.… (more)
LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
This is a difficult book to judge because it is being viewed through the prism of "The Handmaids Tale" written in the mid 80's and the TV show based on that novel. Many people judge the book is comparison to these works. Having read Handmaids Tale in the 80's and never having seen the show, I felt I was judging this book on its own merits. I actually thought that there was enough back story for this book to stand alone. As someone who has read almost all of Atwood's work over the last 20 years, I found this one did not meet her usual high standards. The writing did not have her usual good prose. I did enjoy the parts about Aunt Lydia but found the sections about the 2 young women very flat. A whole book of Aunt Lydia would have been better. It seems that most people rated this book higher than I did but I hold Atwood to a high standard. It is a worthwhile read but if you have never read Atwood start with something else.… (more)
LibraryThing member amanda4242
Well, this is a totally unnecessary book.

The narrative is split between three characters: a pampered* daughter of Gilead; a self-absorbed Canadian teenager who may as well have "Chosen One" flashing above her in neon; and Aunt Lydia, that ruthless torturer from The Handmaid's Tale.
Aside from Aunt Lydia's story, The Testaments reads like YA dystopian at its absolute worst, with two narrators who question almost nothing, and who drift through their lives on a sea of implausible coincidence.

The Testaments worst gaffe is giving facile answers to the questions we were left with in The Handmaid's Tale; question which, in most cases, didn't need to be answered.

What keeps me from totally dismissing this one is Aunt Lydia's tale. Learning her backstory and seeing her navigate her way to a position of power is fascinating. And it's in this section we are given another horrifying literary villain in Commander Judd, a nightmarish cross between Bluebeard and Humbert Humbert. However, it feels like Atwood got bored writing the most interesting part of the book and didn't think it necessary to allude to any sort of motivation for Lydia's final actions.

I won't say I was let down by The Testaments because I didn't really have any expectations for it, but I will say that it's kind of sad that Atwood took thirty-odd years to come up with something so mediocre.

*Well, as pampered as any female in Gilead can be.
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LibraryThing member lisapeet
Enjoyed this, found it entertaining, but I'm not sure it lived up to the power and that deep interior sense of dread of The Handmaid's Tale... though it's been so long since I read that one that I'm rereading it now, so we'll see. I was also kind of distracted in the beginning of the book by the question of why Atwood named a character Paula Saunders, who is in real life an author and married to George Saunders. It can't be coincidence—I briefly Googled and see that Atwood and George Saunders were both lecture speakers at Syracuse University in 2018, and they seem to have a high regard for each other. I'm assuming that if Atwood is going to use someone's name in such a prominent novel it's in fun, not as a dig, but I have to say as a little private joke in the heat of the novel it did throw me out of the action a bit.… (more)
LibraryThing member Twink
Well, has there ever been a more anticipated sequel? Thirty five years on, Margaret Atwood has penned The Testaments - the follow up to The Handmaid's Tale.

Made into a Hulu series, The Handmaid's Tale has reached new generations, both on the screen and on the written page. That first book took us to Gilead, a regime where men ruled, women were chattel and handmaids were there to breed. All under the umbrella of religion.

Fifteen years have passed when The Testaments opens. There are three narratives. I as quite surprised to see that Aunt Lydia (if you've read The Handmaid's Tale, you'll know who this is) is the primary voice. "But among these bloody fingerprints are those made by ourselves, and these can't be wiped away so easily. Over the years I've buried a lot of bones; now I"m inclined to dig them up again - if only for your edification, my unknown reader." And turned what I had thought about this character upside down.

There are two other testaments - that of Witness 369A and Witness 369B - both young women from different sides of the 'border' - one living in Gilead, one safe in Canada. "We were the beneficiaries of the sacrifices made by our forebears. We were constantly reminded of this, and ordered to be grateful. Bbut it's difficult to be grateful for the absence of of an unknown quantity."

How those narratives weave together and what will happen will keep readers up late at night. And as more and more is revealed and the underlying plan becomes visible, I couldn't put the book down. And, as I don't want to provide any spoilers, I'll leave it at that. But suffice to say, I loved it.

Atwood's imagining of such a world is not so far fetched. I leave you with this....:Atwood reiterated that "each detail is plucked from reality" so nothing she wrote has not occurred already, whether it be in this climate or previously before." Scary huh?
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LibraryThing member SChant
As others have remarked, it's a closure to The Handmaid's Tale, but apart from that it was a bit ho-hum for me. The expansion of Aunt Lydia's story was interesting but I didn't really care about the other 2 POV characters.
LibraryThing member MaggieFlo
Am I the only Canadian who did not like this book? I began reading it and after a few chapters began to dread having to finish it. I read The Handmaid’s Tale decades ago and appreciated the significance of the story as speculative fiction. I decided not to read anymore Atwood after suffering through Madadam. For some reason I felt duty bound to read this.
The most important and interesting chapter IMHO is the last chapter which takes place at an academic conference of Gileadean studies in in 2197. It discusses the testimonies of two girls, Daisy/Nicole and Agnes and the Ardua Hall Holograph written by Aunt Lydia.
These three “testaments” form the bulk of the narrative of the life and times inside and outside of Gilead.
Each testament provides details of each person’s life as they maneuver their way through Gilead or outside (Daisy). Women and girls are streamed into Handmaids for procreation, Marthas for slave labour, Pearl girls for indoctrination and Aunts for management. Men of course are in charge as Commanders, Eyes are spies.
Aunt Lydia does a good job of describing the corruption, incompetence, depravity and homicide of various classes of people.
With the exception of Aunt Lydia, I found the character development to be one dimensional, the dialogue flat and the outcome simplistic.
Aunt Lydia is cunning, evil, manipulative and treacherous. We soon determine that she is a double agent working with Mayday to destroy Gilead.
I do not recommend
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LibraryThing member annbury
A sequel is always going to be compared to its precursor, and for me "The Testaments" has an impossible standard to meet. "The Handmaid's Tale" is as with me today as it was 34 years ago, and was one of the few books that changed the way I look at the world. "The Testaments" doesn't reach that standard, but by any other measure it is a wonderful book. I found the characters convincing and sympathetic (even Lydia), the plot pulls the reader inexorably forward, and the whole thing is beautifully written. It is also funny and sharp. And it answers a lot of the questions that "The Handmaid's Tale" opened up. Hence five stars -- I suppose I would have given "The Handmaid's Tale" six.… (more)
LibraryThing member booklove2
A sequel to the incomparable 'The Handmaid's Tale'. This one widens the scope a bit, not only from the perspective of three characters, but also, a little of life outside Gilead which is shockingly normal and familiar. It's surprising to remember that Gilead existed in the books while modern life was happening elsewhere. There is also the new perspective in the book of seeing the origin of one of the Aunts and how they came to be "preparing" the other girls. Sadly, this book doesn't seem to be as lovely in imagery on a sentence level that 'The Handmaid's Tale' is. Not only because this book is darker and shows more of the inner workings of the terrible system of Gilead. This one seems more matter-of-fact in its explanations, which would make sense if you realize that the book is called 'THE TESTAMENTS'. You'd try not to be frilly with your words while trying to testify. But I do miss Offred's particular voice, as she probably took solace in recording however she wanted while not having a voice with anyone around her. In the end, this book ends up being like a dystopia spy thriller, almost like another writer was set to the task of writing the sequel. The new details of this book, like Ardua Hall, the Bloodlines Genealogical Archives and the Pearl Girls are interesting new additions to the sequel, but they seemed to be invented only for convenient plot development. It was nice to see the perspective of the Aunts however. Their motives are so mysterious in the first book. I have never watched the show, and possibly this book was written mainly because the show is so popular. I can't say it was extremely necessary, but I can see a third book being written about the downfall of Gilead.… (more)
LibraryThing member LoriFox
If The Handmaid’s Tale is considered by many to be the aegis for our current political arena and its trumpian war on women, this book will be remembered in history as the hallmark of its antidote. Written in Atwood’s usual brilliant style, it rights wrongs and answers the questions we were left with at the conclusion of the previous novel. Told from the point of view of three very different women, it nonetheless reconciles the dystopian world view with the world we left behind, making sense of events as it turns monsters into allies and rights the world once again. Brilliant and captivating, it’s hard to put down. The three main characters, and one in particular, do not let us down. Instead, they deliver a satisfying conclusion that will stay with us long after the book ends. I highly recommend this book both to fans of The Handmaid’s Tale as well as to women everywhere for whom equal rights are as natural and as appreciated as breathing.… (more)
LibraryThing member browner56
It has been many years since Offred got in the van to leave her life as a Handmaid to a high-ranking Commander in the Republic of Gilead. Whether she was escaping to freedom or heading toward her demise was perhaps the most compelling of the unresolved questions at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s classic work of dystopian speculative fiction. In The Testaments, the author gives us a long-awaited answer, tentative as that response might be, as well as so much more in relating the backstories for many of the people living in and running that brutal theocratic regime.

In particular, this new volume focuses on three women: Aunt Lydia, the most powerful female figure in the Gilead hierarchy; Agnes Jemima, the young daughter of a mid-level Commander; and Daisy, a teen-aged girl living in Canada whose past will soon connect her to the other two. The nation is crumbling, done in by the ongoing corruption and oppressive actions of its leaders. Nevertheless, those in power are desperate to hang on and they are becoming increasingly ruthless in their behavior. Aunt Lydia is actually working covertly to bring about the regime’s demise, keeping a secret journal of the many transgressions she has witnessed (and taken part in herself). It is the complicated scheme she launches to bring her writings to light that gets the three women together and gives the novel its dramatic tension.

Of course, the danger in producing a sequel to such a revered and influential book—especially more than three decades later—is extending the story in a way that readers will view as disappointing or ineffectual. Fortunately, that is simply not a problem with The Testaments, which I found to be an extremely satisfying end to the Gilead saga. Atwood’s writing continues to be effective and affecting, taking the reader right back into the cloistered world of that sinister society. She also adopted a much wider viewpoint in this novel, telling the story from three alternating points of view, none of which being that of a Handmaid as in the earlier work. The Handmaid’s Tale remains one of the best books I have read and this one is not too far behind on that list.
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LibraryThing member Stahl-Ricco
A very good follow-up to "The Handmaid's Tale", though I wouldn't exactly call it a 'sequel'! More like a companion piece. It is the story of three women, and what specifically led to the fall of Gilead.
We have the story of Aunt Lydia, pretty much the leader of women in Gilead and the most powerful of the Aunts. There is also the tale of Agnes, a young woman growing up in Gilead who is at marrying age and not at all wanting to be wed! And finally, there is Daisy, a young lady living in Canada, Gilead's uneasy neighbor to the north. The three stories become intertwined and eventually also link up with Offred's story.
I liked this read, and I was glad it didn't sully the brilliance of the first novel. If anything, it added to it by fleshing out what like was like in Gilead, what happened as it was founded, and what factors led to its undoing. Atwood expertly tells the tale from all three perspectives in this book, and now we have four stories of this horrible country. A country that seems all too real in this age of Trump and his cronies that continue to degrade and belittle women at any and all opportunities. I hope his downfall is as swift and complete as the men of Gilead!
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LibraryThing member tibobi
The Short of It:

A solid follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale and although it’s been years since I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale, I did not need a refresher before reading this one.

The Rest of It:

Gilead. A place where women are assigned to a certain order based on their “talents”. Some are married off to high-profile men to live a somewhat respectable life, surrounded by other women to cater to whatever they may need, even a baby if they cannot have one naturally. Other women are tasked with finding more women like them. Others, find themselves fighting for the resistance in the form of “Mayday”.

The Testaments focuses on Baby Nicole, who was whisked away from Gilead years ago. Much effort is spent trying to find her but the people involved in her disappearance have organized to the point where her disappearance and her eventual re-introduction is all part of a much larger plan to take Gilead down.

This novel would have been captivating all by itself but reading it during the Supreme Court confirmation process, and realizing how much is currently at stake in the area of women’s reproductive rights, was chilling to say the least.

I enjoyed this read. Atwood is a great storyteller and quickly pulls you in. My only complaint is that it was a little hard to keep track of all the “Aunts”. I often had to go back a few pages to remind myself who was who. My club chose this for our discussion this month and I think it’s a book that needs to be discussed so I am hoping for some good conversation.

For more reviews, visit my blog: Book Chatter.… (more)
LibraryThing member Clara53
A riveting sequel to "The Handmaid's Tale", a veritable page-turner, even though the writing IS "deceptively simple", as one reviewer put it. I agree with that. But that just shows how versatile Margaret Atwood is: she needed to speak "through" these young girls, using their language. And then, of course, Aunt Lydia's shocking transformation that had evidently been brewing for years. Would not have guessed. All in all, quite a read...… (more)
LibraryThing member Linyarai
I really enjoyed this, I felt it was a fitting sequel to The Handmaid's Tale. It might not have answered every question, and it took some time to get used to the 15 year gap, but overall I think it was necessary and very well done.
LibraryThing member ASKelmore
Best for:
Those who have read (or watched) The Handmaid’s Tale.

In a nutshell:
We know that Gilead eventually fell. But how?

Worth quoting:
“The truth can cause a lot of trouble for those who are not supposed to know it.”
“Another girl’s disgrace could rub off on you if you got too close to it.”
“They said calm things like ‘You need to be strong.’ They were trying to make things better. But it can put a lot of pressure on a person to be told they need to be strong.”

Why I chose it:
I read The Handmaid’s Tale a few years ago, and have watched two seasons of the show (I live in the UK and can’t figure out how to watch season three).

Review:
This book is told from the perspective of three people: Aunt Lydia; a daughter of a Commander (Agnes); and a teenager living in Canada (Daisy). Each have different experiences of Gilead - Aunt Lydia helped create the way women experience it, Agnes is being raised to become a child bride to a Commander and is fully steeped in the Gilead belief system, and Daisy has parents who are helping fight Gilead from afar.

Aunt Lydia’s section includes the story of how she became involved in Gilead, and I found her sections the most interest to ponder from an ethics perspective. What would each of us do in those situations? Some will fight to survive so they eventually fix things, some will fight to survive so they can acquire some power in the new word; others will see no possible option except to fight until their own death.

I also found Agnes’s sections fascinating. We don’t get the perspectives of the children in the first book (that I can recall), so I appreciated learning a bit about how it all worked in practice. Daisy’s story was the least interesting to me, but her chapter were still compelling.

The writing in this is excellent as expected (the Schlafly Cafe made me lol), and while I think this is a satisfying book and even a necessary one, it didn’t quite match my hopes. But my hopes were quite high.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it.
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LibraryThing member andsoitgoes
As many have stated, this novel definitely brings closure to the Handmaid's Tale. But it left me wanting more! Don't want to give anything away but there were characters I would have liked to know what happened to them.
LibraryThing member TheCrow2
The Testaments was probably the most anticipated literary sensation of this year. The question of course, does it worth it? The short answer is yes. In the story setting decades after the first book we can follow the fate of three different women in and out of Gilead, which is getting slowly more and more corrupt and rotten. And yes, we`ll know what happened with some of the characters from The Handmaid`s Tale.… (more)
LibraryThing member Dreesie
I went into this book ready to not like it. I have heard that you need to have watched the Netflix show (I watched half of season one, I am really just not a TV person), that it doesn't "fit" with The Handmaid's Tale, and that it was forced.

Yes, these are mostly new characters, 15 years after The Handmaid's Tale. And we are thrown into their stories. Would this all make more sense if I had watched the Netflix show? Maybe, but I didn't think it mattered. I love books that drop you down and let you figure out what's going on. From Aunt Lydia's describing the origin of Giliad and the Aunts, and her growing misgivings; Daisy/Jade/Nicole and her lost life in Canada with Melanie and Neil; Becka/Aunt Imortelle and Agnes/Aunt Victoria and their successful avoidance of marriage and recruitment into the Aunts; to Mayday in Canada; and to the commanders, wives, and other aunts--we get a glimpse into the working of Giliad. I just wish there was more about the Econofamilies (aka the working and middle classes). But I thought this all fit together fairly well, and I enjoyed it. Of course, I am sure Atwood has been thinking about "what next" since The Handmaid's Tale came out.

Is it really Booker worthy? Not to me. It's good, but it's not The Handmaid's Tale. It felt a little rushed, and a little forced to fit into out Trumpian world right now. Much of The Handmaid's Tale was about how environmental pollutants had made human reproduction difficult and thus the Handmaids became "necessary". And while that is referenced in this novel (unbabies), it is in the background--and Canada seems to have children without handmaids, but that is not addressed. And that is my main complaint. A key to Gilead's creation in The Handmaid's Tale was that pollution. But here, it has shifted to being more about religion and controlling women and less about declining fertility and procreation.
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LibraryThing member alexrichman
Did this win the Booker prize to make up for the fact that the original didn’t? It’s not a patch on its predecessor - or The Blind Assassin, for that matter - and while it zips along nicely it feels like a completely different beast from the first. More Catching Fire than Bring Up The Bodies.
LibraryThing member bostonbibliophile
The Testaments reminded me a lot of Brave New World, and how BNW falls apart when the outlander comes in, this book falls apart when Witness B enters Gilead. Overall I was really disappointed with The Testaments even though I'm about the biggest Atwood fan you will find. The first third to half of the book was really solid. Then it felt rushed, sloppy and pat. I'm sorry to say that. Atwood's books mean a lot to me but this did not feel like a fully polished Atwood book. From a lot of other writers you'd say it's superb; but it's just OK by Atwood standards.… (more)

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