The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

The Testaments (The Handmaid's Tale, #2)

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I have had complicated feelings about The Testaments ever since it was announced, ever since it was nominated for the Booker, ever since it shared the prize with Girl, Woman, Other, ever since all of this and more. It is not that I disliked it, nor that I did not want it, but rather I felt uncomfortable about the position it was coming to occupy in the world. I wondered if we were looking towards this to answer questions and to resolve issues in a way that we would not ask many other books to do and if, perhaps, we were reading more the cultural discourse about this book rather than the book itself. Messy thoughts, I know, but present and vital to acknowledge in my understanding of this book.

I came late to The Handmaid’s Tale, reading it after I had watched and loved the series itself. I am sometimes dazzled by visuals and the high art of the adaptation hit home for me in a way that the book never quite did. The Testaments feels like a book that would not have existed without the series, and it feels filmic and big and global in a way that the tight, claustrophic horror of The Handmaid’s Tale did not.

Is one of them then better than the other? I’m not sure, nor do I think that’s a useful rubric to apply. They are simply different and, I think in the case of the Testaments in particular, one could reach so far as to say that it is good but not particularly great. Parts of it feel rushed, parts of it feel strange, and the motivations of one of the big leads in it are difficult to manage or, at the least, understand.

Did I like it? I did, I think. It was alright. It was satisfying, though I do not think it was revelatory. And the ending felt too quick, too clearly obvious for the world that it lived in.

Like I said, I have complicated feelings about it.



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4 comments

  1. I am conflicted too, in some of the same ways and some different. I read the Handmaid’s Tale in my early 20s (in my 50s now) and it blew me away. It is so tight, it is so insightful and it’s impossible to imagine any words being different. I haven’t watched the series yet and I re-read the first book before the second. Maybe my expectations were too high or maybe i was not prepared for the shift in style, but I found it oddly loose and disappointing for that reason. I thought it was interesting and at times moving, but not compelling, and that I think is partly down to the much broader canvas, and partly because the motivations of the characters seemed less compelling – there seemed to me to be multiple options of what they might do. I thought it was politically looser too. But I don’t know how impressed I would have been had it not been a sequel.

    • Firstly, thank you for this. It’s so interesting to hear your thoughts and I’m really intrigued to hear that you’re in a similar place with it. Your last point has given me a lot of thought – I think I would be stepping aside from The Testaments without a backward thought were it not for the Atwood of it it and the Sequel of it. Interesting times. Thank you!

  2. You spoke my actual thoughts about The Testaments. I read it on publication day and l can see now looking back l was caught up in the hype, which seemed more connected to the series (which l have enjoyed but of course is a totally different medium) than actually looking forward to a new book. I initially felt meh about the book. Now l feel as you describe – all the conflictions. I’m glad l read it, l may even re-read. But it almost felt too easy and not as powerful as The Handmaid’s Tale. It was a 4 star for me which possibly contradicts what l’ve written but also means for me it didn’t move me and stay with me so much as I’d have hoped. Maybe it would always be thus.

    • Thank you for this! I’m so pleased it’s not just me who feels a little bit weird about the whole thing. I think you’re right – it does definitely have an air of almost feeling “too easy”. I still honestly don’t quite know what to make of it. But, as you also say, maybe it was always going to be like this… Thank you!

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