In 1985, Margaret Atwood introduced readers everywhere to the dystopian society of Gilead in her novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale.” It captured the attention of audiences everywhere, becoming a staple of high school English required readings, a classic in feminist literature and even a popular television series on Hulu.
“The Testaments,” Atwood’s sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” was one of the most anticipated novels of the year. Released on Sept. 10, Atwood’s novel has spent three weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. Part of this popularity can be attributed to its more mass-market appeal. Unlike its predecessor, this novel reads less like a high school required reading and more like a mass-marketed thriller of a dystopian novel.
Fifteen years after Offred escapes Gilead, the world is still dealing with the repercussions. Not only did Offred manage to escape with her life, but she also managed to bring her young child, Nicole, over the Canadian border with her. “The Testaments” picks up by exploring the worldly and personal ramifications of this escape.
Like the original story, “The Testaments” is told from a first-person perspective that is later revealed to have been a tape-recorded or written testimony. Unlike “The Handmaid’s Tale,” this novel follows three characters: Daisy, a Canadian teen disgusted by Gilead, Agnes, a young girl from Gilead who does not want to follow conventional marriage practices, and Aunt Lydia, the famously heartless and authoritative representation of the Gilead regime.
All three women are entwined with a plot to take down Gilead, and through their expertly interlaced storylines, their slow yet thrilling plan for the destruction of Gilead becomes revealed. Unsurprisingly, Daisy and Agnes are both daughters of Offred; Daisy is the famous baby Nicole who became the symbol of the struggles between Gilead and the rest of the world, and Agnes is the daughter Offred tries to escape with in the beginning of the first novel. This relationship to Offred is slowly made clear throughout the novel which adds to the suspenseful tone and overall thrill of the story.
The novel weaves together all three stories in a brilliant way that builds suspense and helps the audience get a better understanding of the internal workings of Gilead. Many of the unanswered questions that have plagued “Handmaid’s Tale” lovers for years are addressed in this book which provides a satisfying end to Offred’s story.
The most compelling part of this novel is Aunt Lydia’s story. Throughout her chapters, the audience is able to experience with more detail the rise of Gilead and the manipulative policies that keep it going. Aunt Lydia, in both the original novel and show, serves as a fierce representation of the oppressive Gilead regime, but through her story, it is easy to feel more sympathetic toward her story and the way she was manipulated. Like Offred’s perspective in “Handmaid’s Tale,” Aunt Lydia’s story is a compelling example of Atwood’s ability to describe the subtleties of power and the complexities of human beings as a whole.
The other two girls in the story, Agnes and Daisy, help the audience get a glimpse into daily life in Gilead and abroad. Their connection to Offred is hinted at frequently which helps establish a connection to the two characters. Their stories unfold similarly to a young adult novel which was an unexpected style for an Atwood novel, but it did make the overall reading easier and somewhat more enjoyable.
Through the stories of these three women, it was easy to gain a deeper insight into the human experience even though their stories take place in an unrelatable setting. Like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Testaments” provides a timeless insight into the politics of repression and the way that one individual has the power to topple entire regimes.