Thoughts on Atwood's The Testaments

[the cover, both front and back, are so good]

There aren't any spoilers, don't worry.

I was cautiously optimistic about Margaret Atwood's The Testaments, despite not being a huge fan of series and sequels. But, it's Atwood! Her Oryx and Crake books are great, and she's basically a living legend. I did have some fears, though, since her show has seen so much success, mostly that it would either follow that story line or be written way too accessibly to captivate Hulu's wide audience. The Handmaid's Tale is one of the most quintessential pieces of modern literature, and while it's not Ulysses, it's not exactly JoJo Moyes. 

Atwood's newest novel is set not quite two decades into the future after the original story left off, where we hear from three perspectives: Daisy, a young girl in Canada, Agnes,  the daughter of a Commander in Gilead, and, our favorite, Aunt Lydia (hey girl!). There is a definite sense of instability in the conservative run territory, as we now have a better glimpse of what is going on from multiple source, both inside and out. Over time, the lives of the three are merged together and the infrastructure of the regime is threatened. In true Atwood style she questions patriarchy, government, and the tradition. I appreciated her ongoing no-so-subtle commentary on the current US administration, forecasting the dangers of trusting those who want to stifle the voices of their citizens. 

The book is definitely a page turner; at over four hundred pages it moves quite quickly and the second half especially is pretty action-packed. The narrative threads of the two young girls were a tad two simplistic for me. I mentioned this to an old student of mine who was also reading it, and she had a thoughtful interpretation- that it was mirroring their limited education and experience. I definitely agree on one level, but the older, snobbier, more jaded reader in me thinks this was maybe an attempt to keep those Hulu readers. It's not a huge problem, and the fact that Aunt Lydia's portions are so true to the style of The Handmaid's Tale balanced things out considerably for me. 

The story itself was well-crafted, of course, although a bit predictable at more than one point. I felt that this element was handled well in the last portion of the book, though, so as a whole it all comes together nicely. I also had to wonder if the there was a door left open for a third book, but we'll have to just see what Atwood has up her (sadly quite geriatric) sleeve. 

All in all, this was definitely a win. You must read the first book, though, if you haven't, or so much of this just won't work (and watching the series DOES NOT COUNT). There are so many frightening parallels to the present, both in regards to reproductive freedom and government bureaucracy that it's an important warning for us all. 

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