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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 lauralkeet
Set some 15 years after the events in The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments tells the stories of three women caught up in Gilead’s totalitarian regime. One woman is raised to be a Wife, the second lives outside of Gilead and becomes involved in resistance efforts, and the third is the notorious Aunt Lydia, head of the Aunts responsible, among other things, for the education and training of the Handmaids. Each story is told in the first person, with the interweaving chapters gradually revealing details of Gilead and its history and connections between the three women.

Aunt Lydia’s story and narrative voice were by far the best part of this novel. Readers learn her back story and see how her rise to power fostered the cruelty and cunning on display in The Handmaid’s Tale. I never would have expected her to become a sympathetic figure, but indeed she does. Lydia, a founding Aunt in Gilead, has seen a thing or two and learned the art of subversion in order to survive. The other two women are much younger than Lydia, born after Gilead’s formation. For them, there is no “before,” and little ability to imagine a world where Gilead doesn’t exist. But their stories sometimes stretched the bounds of credibility, and the pacing felt rushed as the novel hurtled towards its dramatic conclusion. Nonetheless, The Testaments makes for great reading and serves as a sobering reminder of how easily a society can go horribly wrong.
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LibraryThing member mooingzelda
It's been quite a few years since I last read The Handmaid's Tale, but I did see the first season of the TV show (I couldn't get past the first couple of episodes of the second), so I at least had the events of the first book reasonably fresh in my mind when I started The Testaments.

I was quite excited to read it, and got swept up in it straight away. I really liked Aunt Lydia's narrative, and was intrigued enough by the other two perspectives to want to know more. We find out more about the workings of Gilead, and also learn how Aunt Lydia got to where she is. There are a few references to the specific events of The Handmaid's Tale early on, but if I hadn't watched the show relatively recently they probably would've passed me by!

The build-up to the climax is pretty breathless, and doesn't have the detail or nuance of the earlier sections, so I sped through it very quickly. I was satisfied by the ending, but would've liked a few more reflective passages/reactions from those involved - there's a lot of action and not much opportunity for thought.

Still, this is a good sequel that I enjoyed immensely, and much preferable to what I saw of S2 of the show (even though the timelines are different). There are some beautiful bits of writing in the first two-thirds of the book or so, but I felt their lack towards the end.
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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 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 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 Carmenere
Now that the final chapters have been told in The Testaments, I pause to wonder what changed for me in the past 10 years since I first read The Handmaid's Tale? I knew Atwood was a wonderful writer - I thought The Blind Assassin was great story and very well written - but, for I don't know what reason, The Handmaid's Tale just didn't click with me.
Now, I've just finished The Testaments and was drawn into the story from page one. It just clicked and I wonder how I had missed the sharp narrative and wit that alluded me in The Handmaid's Tale . Surely, it must be there too!
Readers of The Handmaid's Tale had years and years to stew about what came after and with The Testaments, Atwood provides what may or may not work for today's readers but for this one, it did and a reread of Handmaid's Tale is a must for me.
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LibraryThing member lilibrarian
Sequel to The Handmaid's Tale. This story is constructed of documents written 15 years after the events of the first book. A young Canadian, an elderly Aunt, and a young novice Aunt, tell of how their lives intersect, and change due to their dealings with each other.
LibraryThing member Doondeck
An outstanding continuation/conclusion to The Handmaid's Tale. Atwood cleverly interlaced the "testaments" of the key players and kept the suspense alive until the very end. A great book.
LibraryThing member ecataldi
I am always SUPER SKEPTICAL when authors decide to publish a sequel that has been a standalone for decades. I didn't go in to this with high hopes because in my mind The Handmaid's Tale was perfectly amazing as a standalone and I didn't want Atwood to tarnish the original. Boy was I wrong. Atwood more than delivered. The Testaments isn't a sequel per se, but it involves Gilead and a few of the hated Aunts as well as a few other recognizable characters. It picks up a couple years after The Handmaid's Tale but follows three different threads. Aunt Lydia, Nicole, and Agnes; an aunt, a teenager living in Canada, and a young Gilead school girl. By the end of the stories those three characters will be so entangled and will change each others lives forever. Truly as magical as the first one and really rounds out the terrifying world of Gilead! Pleasantly surprised, one I would read again!… (more)

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