So, if you read my last post you would have seen that I have challenged myself to read 52 books this year (I’m sure you a) read it and b) remembered this fact). So to put that English degree I spent so much time and money on to some good use, every now and again I’ll be sitting down to write about the books I’m reading. Which was essentially my degree. Which I spent three years doing. And lost my mind over. And lots of hours of sleep. Fantastic
My first read of 2020 (OK it was New Year’s Eve 2019 but back off, I’m counting it) was the long, *LONG* awaited sequel of the Hand Maid’s Tale by the queen herself, Margaret Atwood. I was a little bit unsure seeing as it conveniently came about after the last season of the TV adaptation set in the same universe but I’m fickle and I was excited. So, like Atwood fans all over the world, I closed my little eyes on Christmas Eve, not with thoughts of sugar plums, but of the enslaved women of Gilead, over-powered by a totalitarian regime ruled by messianic rich men, dancing through my head. Running down the stairs on Christmas Day, I opened The Testaments and was soon crushed, all over again, by the brutal resemblance to the treatment of women in Gilead and in our very own, non-fictitious world.
I sat down to what can only be described as a day-long assault on this book.
*It’s important to emphasis you don’t need to have watched the series to read this book, it would help but it isn’t necessary.*
The book is split into three voices; Ardua Hall Holograph, Transcript of Witness Testimony 369A, and Transcript of Witness Testimony 369B all depicting familiar characters from the last book and series (that they explain later on for readers who hadn’t watched the show). The trio of voices are plaited together to resemble a form of holy-trinity in a clever mimicry of Gilead’s centralised, religious doctrine.
Atwood creates these characters with flaws and redemptions that give them multi-dimensional personalities. The novel takes you through more of Gilead’s creation, narrated by the Ardura Hall Holograph chapters as the character speaks directly to the reader through diary entries they hope will be found, as if you are the discoverer. They then desperately connect with you as the founder of the journal, flinging you directly into Gilead:
“Our time together is drawing short my reader […] I picture you as a young woman, bright, ambitious. You’ll be looking to make a niche for yourself in whatever dim, echoing caverns of academia may still exist by your time.” (The Testaments, p.403.)
Testaments A and B do not directly converse with the reader. Instead, we are thrown back and forth between their past tense, first person narrative split between two characters who have grown up in Gilead, and the other who has grown up as an observer and protester.
I really loved this book, it seamlessly washed the world of Gilead right over me again. Atwood cleverly re-introduces it’s laws and rituals without acting as the tired, Star Wars style ‘tour guide to the original’. It’s a must-read for fans of the first book, a story of hope and love.