Rating – 4.7 out of 5
Set in the world of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Testaments follows a story of three other women also affected by the laws that govern the Republic of Gilead. In the years following Offred’s flight from her captors, Gilead has remained the same republic ruled by militaristic fundamentalism which keeps all of its inhabitants in line and women specifically without power and the ability to make their own decisions. In The Testaments, we follow the stories of Aunt Lydia who we met in the previous book, Agnes, a young daughter of one of the Commanders and Daisy, a young woman living in Canada who gets caught up in the resistance.
Why I liked The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
For me, reading any of Atwood’s work has never been a comfortable experience. It is not designed to be, it’s designed to challenge you and make you think deeply about how power and structure can make a society cruel. The crux of this novel was to think about the power structures and how recursive they can be while trying to hold onto power through brute force. It’s one thing to create a society like Gilead which I what I felt The Handmaid’s Tale focuses on but it’s quite another to continue that society through time. We get to see through this story how Gilead not only indoctrinates people into their way of thinking but also how the leadership makes it impossible to leave and break away from it once you are in their grasp. This whole novel is truly chilling.
One of the themes that The Testaments explores is how a culture that represses people’s natural desires and freedoms often strengthen the reaction in moments where people are allowed to let loose. This is most obviously seen in the horrifically violent acts that Handmaid’s and others commit against those that have been deemed as needing punishment under the laws of Gilead. The social control of allowing only a few outlets but having those outlets be so all-encompassing stuck with me.
All of Aunt Lydia’s storyline was written to highlight this. How she explains that the Aunts were treated at the beginning of Gilead was astounding and another good example of social control. Breaking a person down with physical and emotional violence is the surest way to achieve obedience. In fact, once Aunt Lydia is an Aunt she is still carrying out the will of Gilead even though her beginnings were staunchly against what it stands for. Once you have power in a situation like this it is still difficult to bend a culture to your thoughts. You just end up supporting a broken culture.
When it comes to the actual story in this novel I enjoyed the characters. Daisy has the biggest personality of the bunch and I felt that her part of the story helped showcase how those people outside of a culture like Gilead perceive it. It is amazing to think that a country still so geographically close to Gilead as Canada would still have to treat the country as an official state but given the history of the world, this is not as rare as one might think. As Atwood has said many times herself – she doesn’t write about anything that has not already happened or is not true.
Truth be told, I have not watched the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale tv show because of how brutal this society was to anyone not in power. That is usually a storyline I can engage with to understand the lessons, but it became too much for me in the visual medium. Having read this book and realizing how much I have matured over the last few years, I think it is time for me to try again at watching the show.
One Final Thought – Margaret Atwood told everyone to vote when I saw her speak. Do not disappoint Margaret Atwood. So Vote. Vote. VOTE!
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