Why I Loved ‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

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Now before I even begin this article, I just want to say that there will be plenty of spoilers as I will be noting particular events and information that occurs in the book in order for me to detail the things that I loved about it. I remember my reaction when I first read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ for my A-Level English class; I was genuinely so surprised about what I was reading and very shocked that it was included in the syllabus, but I am so glad it was, even if I was a bit weirded out at first. Then, during revision, I read it again and researched about it, which is when I began to see the huge importance of the book, as shown by how when Donald Trump was elected, book sales increased and this book re-surged back into the charts, even though it was originally published in 1985. It was only a matter of time before Margaret Atwood would write fans an amazing sequel to this book, set 15 years later and answering many of the questions that were left after ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. 


First of all, I was very surprised by how there are three different character narratives within the book, but what shocked me the most is how one of these was from the infamous Aunt Lydia herself, a character I particularly disliked due to Offred’s narrative. It was very weird reading her narrative at first, but once I had got used to this idea, I started to enjoy having this different perspective. I also love how Atwood made Aunt Lydia into a character I actually celebrated by the end as she redeemed herself through her defiance against Gilead, well at least the very corrupt version Gilead had become, by helping to take it down. She even managed to unite not only two half-sisters, but even these two sisters to their mothers, another thing I have to applaud her for. Although she still remained a harsh character which could be seen from the perspectives of Nicole and Agnes, by the end she used her power for good, so she turned from a character I hated to a character I perhaps could very much like (in small quantities).  


Furthermore, I was so happy that Atwood subtly brought back Offred, even though it was no longer her narrative. It is hugely hinted that Offred is the rebel handmaid mother of Nicole and Agnes although it is left open by the name not actually being said in the book by the other characters. Even with this openness there is still closure if you strongly believe, like I do, that Offred is the mother; the reader knows that she believed she was pregnant by the end of the book and that she was a part of Mayday, therefore this would make her a perfect candidate. She is able to be re-united with both her children, something the reader perhaps never thought would happen after the ambiguous ending of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. Therefore, Atwood fed into my desire for happy endings.  


Another nod to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ in ‘The Testaments’ was the ‘Historical Notes’ section at the end of the narrative. As soon as I saw the title for this, I laughed and said to myself ‘not again’, but I think it was a nice little touch. Yet again this section is filled by the speeches of speakers from a convention all about Gilead, and yet again it is set in a very distant future. This is the Thirteenth Symposium, following on from the Twelfth Symposium at the end of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, so again it not only takes the reader back to familiar territory, but also allows them to feel greater closure. Even Professor James Darcy Pieixoto apologises for his jokes in the Twelfth Symposium, which were directed against Handmaids and so on. I remember analysing these jokes in my A-Level classes and feeling a little anger towards them as to me it felt like Offred’s narrative was being belittled, so I liked this apology (even though it wouldn’t have been sincere). The only thing I disliked a small amount about this section was that it suggested that Aunt Lydia may not have been the Aunt at Ardua Hall who was helping Mayday, because this to me seemed to detract a little from her narrative and make it less reliable. Still, I believe it was her so I’m going to go with it!


Atwood in her note at the end of the book said she wrote this book in order to answer the question of ‘How did Gilead fall?’ which was repeatedly asked to her. This again was another part of the narrative closure that I especially admired. It felt fantastic to no longer be left in the dark like after ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, now having some almost definite answers by the end of this book (yes, I love endings with closure, and don’t particular like endings that are ambiguous). Mayday and Aunt Lydia’s betrayal of Gilead state secrets to this group through the use of Nicole was pivotal to the end of Gilead we are told in the Historical Notes; no more Gilead and there is closure, so time to rejoice!


I feel like I’ve fangirled over ‘The Testaments’ enough now, but I hope you enjoyed this novel just as much as I did so can appreciate it!