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Goodreads Choice Award
Winner for Best Fiction (2019)
When the van door slammed on Offred's future at the end of The Handmaid's Tale, readers had no way of telling what lay ahead for her--freedom, prison or death.

With The Testaments, the wait is over.

Margaret Atwood's sequel picks up the story more than fifteen years after Offred stepped into the unknown, with the explosive testaments of three female narrators from Gilead.

In this brilliant sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, acclaimed author Margaret Atwood answers the questions that have tantalized readers for decades.

"Dear Readers: Everything you've ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we've been living in." --Margaret Atwood

An alternate cover edition of ISBN 978-0385543781 can be found here.

422 pages, Hardcover

First published September 10, 2019

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About the author

Margaret Atwood

588 books77.9k followers
Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master's degree from Radcliffe College.

Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid's Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood's dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth ­ in the Massey series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009. Ms. Atwood's work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen TM.

Margaret Atwood currently lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

Associations: Margaret Atwood was President of the Writers' Union of Canada from May 1981 to May 1982, and was President of International P.E.N., Canadian Centre (English Speaking) from 1984-1986. She and Graeme Gibson are the Joint Honourary Presidents of the Rare Bird Society within BirdLife International. Ms. Atwood is also a current Vice-President of PEN International.

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5 stars
138,854 (42%)
4 stars
126,106 (38%)
3 stars
48,852 (14%)
2 stars
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2,265 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 29,644 reviews
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,401 reviews11.7k followers
May 29, 2020
I guess I'll have to be the one who says what nobody else is willing to say. This novel is terrible, and Booker judges are starstruck, hype-driven sellouts. And that no professional literary critic has the guts to tell the truth about how poorly conceived and written The Testaments is, is a true shame.

I can't decide which work Atwood should be embarrassed for more - Angel Catbird, Vol. 1 or The Testaments. The book doesn't read like a novel written by one of the most lauded authors of the 20st century. The Testaments reads like a standard-issue feminist YA dystopia, filled with every overused dystopian trope and every stereotype, penned by an author who writes for teen audience, and is published by Harper Teen. As such, it undoubtedly has some appeal to a part of Atwood's readership, but literary merit The Testaments has none. If this book had a different name on it, I would have DNFed it after 50 pages for its lack of originality, predictability and mediocre writing style. I’ve read a fair number of similar novels, I am not opposed to them, I enjoyed some of them, and some of them (for example the upcoming The Grace Year) held my attention much better. As an Atwood novel, The Testaments gets one disappointed, angry, heart-broken star from me.

Why did the publishers embargo Atwood's new creation, I wonder? Surely there is nothing to spoil. Maybe to conceal its poor execution, or its transparent, shallow, simplistic, and ridiculous plot?

The story is told from 3 POVs - Aunt Lydia's and two teen girls' - one growing up in Gilead and another - in Canada. Oh my, who those girls might be? Twist!

You can only glimpse Atwood's former brilliance in Aunt Lydia's POV, but just for a few moments here and there. If the whole novel was written about Aunt Lydia, maybe Atwood would have made her journey more convincing, but alas. The other two girls are quintessential YA dystopian heroines - one abused by an evil oppressive regime, and the other - a bratty teen on the run from bad people, but who nevertheless has time for some romance. Yum! Like I said, these POVs are so similar to what's been regurgitated over and over in teen publishing, it's uncanny. Has The Testaments been partially ghost-written by Lauren Oliver? I am not trying to dump on Oliver, she has her fans and her place in the industry, but I expected something infinitely more sophisticated from Margaret Atwood.

The new information about Gilead Atwood promised? Well, new details of Gilead made the regime more nonsensical and less plausible than ever before. Who benefits from living in Gilead becomes unfathomable in this book, thus making the entire concept pointless (kind of like in Wither). Totalitarian regimes work, at least temporarily, because they are supported by a mass of true believers. Where are they in this book? But if you yearn for some more torture porn in addition to that supplied by the 3 seasons of the TV show, then sure. Rapists, molesters, killers, suicide victims galore, plus solitary confinement - there is an overabundance of that. All of it written bluntly, rashly, exploitatively and without any kind of nuance. There is no overarching theme in The Testaments except GILEAD IS BAD. The plot to overthrow it is a joke.

If you are looking for a clever, thoughtful, well-written companion to The Handmaid's Tale, you are out of luck. If you want a bland, basic TV show fanfic stuffed with action adventure and genre tropes, enjoy! The Testaments was written just for you.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews293k followers
September 13, 2019
I can sum it up simply: this book is not needed.

I hoped that wouldn't be the case. I really really hoped Atwood had something important to add to the world of Gilead with this book, but she honestly doesn't. If anything, The Testaments serves only to weaken the power of The Handmaid's Tale.

In the past, I have spoken highly of authors who are not afraid to "be evil" with their books. This may give the impression that they are doing something particularly nefarious, but, in fact, it’s not so much something they do, but everything they don’t. It’s an act of self-restraint to not say everything, to leave some things unanswered, some happy endings unexplored. That, I feel, is one of the greatest strengths of The Handmaid's Tale.

Because there is so much we don't know; can't know. Everything we experience comes from Offred's narrow world view. Everything Offred doesn't know-- we don't know. The ending, too, is famously ambiguous. And these are extremely powerful tools. What we don’t know is powerful. Ambiguity is powerful. Knowing when to finish is powerful. As Aunt Lydia notes herself in this very book:
Where there is emptiness, the mind will obligingly fill it up. Fear is always at hand to supply any vacancies, as is curiosity.

The Handmaid's Tale forces us to wonder, to imagine, to fear the worst and hope for the best. The Testaments not so much.

What this book does is remove the ambiguity. It provides answers to thirty-five year old mysteries that were best left unanswered. I am reminded somewhat comically of Jojo Moyes' inability to let go of her Me Before You characters, repeatedly opening up the story after leaving it on an emotional high. Not every "ooh, I wonder what the characters did next?" should be answered. Sometimes not knowing is so much more effective. And that's Moyes. I didn't expect Atwood to indulge in this sentimentality.

The Handmaid's Tale uses one limited perspective to make us think; The Testaments uses three perspectives and an epilogue in the future to colour in all the corners, leaving nothing to the imagination.

I gave this book two stars for Aunt Lydia's perspective. Without her contribution I am honestly not sure I would have pushed through the second half of the book. The rest of the book is told from the perspective of two teenage girls, one living in Canada and the other in Gilead, and the "twists" regarding them are so glaringly obvious that it is actually a bit embarrassing to read the scenes with the dramatic reveals (chapter cliffhanger obviously). The whole infiltration by the resistance thing was straight out of every other dime a dozen dystopia.

I had so hoped this was going to do something new and important. I hoped it was going to impart a new message, perhaps relevant to modern times. I hoped it was going to be smart and thought-provoking. I am disappointed.

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Profile Image for Marchpane.
293 reviews2,128 followers
January 22, 2020
Return to Gilead

Check your expectations at the door: The Testaments is a highly entertaining page turner, but it is also probably quite different from whatever you were anticipating.

It differs from its 1985 antecedent, The Handmaid's Tale, in tone, voice and literary heft. That earlier book had a power and a gravitas that is not recaptured here. For me the most striking thing about The Handmaid’s Tale has always been Atwood’s choice of narrator. Offred (in the book she has no other name) is so confined by her circumstances; her isolation is claustrophobic. She is essentially passive, keeping her head down and daring to aim only for survival, while other characters have more agency (Moira and Ofglen both find proactive ways to thwart the Gilead regime, either would have been a more natural choice for a protagonist). Offred is an Everywoman – with her passivity she confronts the reader: Well, what would you do in my place? And don't kid yourself. It's bleak, but the novel's power is in its intimate portrait of powerlessness.

The Testaments is more action-driven, more hopeful, and by extension, less realistic. We follow three characters who are prepared to buck the system, to risk everything to crush the patriarchy. That two of them are teenagers feeds the sense of buoyancy, you get the feeling that Atwood too thinks the kids are gonna save us.

The shift in tone will be familiar to viewers of Hulu's TV series — perhaps both Atwood and the showrunners 'read the room' and recognised that the catharsis of a feelgood fightback is what we crave and need most right now. If the idea of a book set in Gilead being entertaining — even fun — dismays you, best skip this one.

Indeed The Testaments, rather shrewdly on Atwood's part, functions as a sequel to both the first book AND the TV adaptation — deftly combining elements from each, while avoiding the show's most glaring faults (eg its over-reliance on a single character, and tendency to get bogged down plot-wise).

This novel isn't flawless either. One of the narrative voices is by far more compelling than the others (no prizes for guessing that it's the mature, morally compromised Aunt Lydia, not one of the idealistic teenagers). It's a little too TV-ready in the way the characters intersect. Certain plot twists are loudly telegraphed and the narratives don't always jive with the historical documents they purport to be. And my eyes rolled more than once (Underground Femaleroad, really?).

Still there's much to enjoy. The conniving duplicity and monstrous ambivalence of Aunt Lydia makes for thrilling reading. Atwood's prose and story-spinning have lost none of their magic, and for an 80 year old she writes teenage voices surprisingly well! Most importantly, it's compulsively readable.

The Testaments is unlikely to become a perennially relevant classic like its predecessor, and it's unreasonable to expect that kind of greatness from it. As an expansion of the Gilead mythos though, it more than satisfies.
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,198 reviews40.7k followers
August 15, 2021
Winner of best fiction category but it’s not my winner. That’s my opinion and I respect fans’ opinions 😣😣

Two stars for the love of Aunt Lydia! If she wasn’t in this book, I could do something first by giving minus five stars to a book! See how I disliked and how I felt frustrated about this hope stealing, time wasting, one of the biggest failures of the year!!!! One of the tasteless testament you could ever have!

2019 could be one of this year I got really disappointed by movies, series books. They were like several ugly stabs to your stomach. I was unlucky to read Cari Mora ( After 13 years of waiting patiently Thomas Harris released this…hmm…itshouldnotbenamed, yes this is worse than Voldemort!), Mister( My bad, I shouldn’t pick this one! The joke is on me!), several romance books released by Jewel E. Ann, Karina Halle, K. A. Tucker, Renee Carlino etc. I watched GOT’s final and started to fantasize how to punch the screenwriters who are also series-killers (worse occupation than being serial killer) in 101 different ways!
And now I’m holding a book which is the worst betrayal to the memory of Handmaid’s Tale, one of the best dystopian books that have ever been written.

I didn’t understand the writer’s motive stick to the characters of their previous works. Did I want to know what happened to June? Never, I just wanted to move on and get rid of terrifying, penetrating, mind numbing affect to book left on me.

And here we are with 3 different POVs- Aunt Lydia(If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t add two more stars, but at least her parts kept me reading more because too many times I wanted to drop it and added to my DNF and HNITF-have no intention to finish- list) and two teenage girls ( one from Canada and one from Gilead). I really think, on those teenagers’ narration parts, the author stopped writing and summoned her interns who returned back from getting her clothes from dry-cleaner and her coffee orders and made them take her seat and write all those parts as she had a meeting with Hulu for the future episodes of Handmaid’s Tale.

And twisty part about teenagers, oh please you don’t need to have spider senses to foresee it, even my ten years old nephew caught the surprise when I told him some specifics about the book. (I’m good with kids and their intellectual evaluation)

What about the details of Gilead? Still senseless, illogical and more irritating than before. True believers supporting the system work properly. But I just wanted to learn something new, different, exploring something astonishing, shocking and more provoking. But no…nada…

Now I’m sulking, fists clenched but this time as a big change I don’t want to punch any characters, I think the creator of them more deserved my slaps. I already sent my bill to the publishers for wasting my priceless time for nothing.

Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
December 4, 2019
A review in 5 words:

Unnecessary. Pointless. Ruining. Bland. Spoilers.
Profile Image for Ariel.
301 reviews64.2k followers
October 23, 2019
I liked this one more than A Handmaid's Tale! Call me crazy! But I loved that there was this exciting plot that was pushing the momentum forwards and that we were learning more about Gilead and the world outside and the way it came to be. I read this DIRECTLY after A Handmaid's Tale, like I read both of them in the span of a few days, and I felt this enriched the world so much more.
Profile Image for Felicia.
254 reviews931 followers
September 14, 2019
This was my most anticipated book for 2019.

Wait... I should amend that statement...


And much like my life, it was an epic disappointment.

The Handmaid's Tale is on my Top 10 shelf. It is, in my opinion, the greatest dystopian novel of all time. It is everything you expect from the genre and more. Shocking, terrifying, an unflinching account of a fucking nightmarish scenario that could actually happen.

At the end of The Handmaid's Tale I was left devastated and bereft of words. I loved the ambiguity and found myself never wanting to know what happened to June. I consider this decision by Atwood to be the crowning achievement of the novel.

With The Testaments Atwood took that crown and crushed it beneath her pen.

Obliterated it.

And nearly took The Handmaid's Tale with it.
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books909 followers
September 18, 2019
It's not easy being the most anticipated book of the year. I would argue that most of the negative reactions - including my own - are based largely on expectations. Since published in 1985, The Handmaid's Tale has become sacred ground in the literary world; a true modern classic further amplified by the successful show and current political tensions. Stakes for a sequel couldn't be higher and, even for the ever-talented Margaret Atwood, that's a tough performance to deliver. All in all, this is a well-written adventure story that expands the world building hinted at and alluded to by the original. But it's also boring, mostly unsurprising, and generally feels like a cash-in opportunity.

More specifically, I was turned off by all the young characters. About 67% of the book is narrated by youth. Their lack of maturity creates a Middle Grade narrative voice that is jarring and undesired. Not necessarily unrealistic, just annoying. Their kiddish thoughts go on for pages and pages when a few brief lines would have sufficed to assure us these characters are indeed children.

Another downer is how many questions this book doesn't answer. The original ended with such a dramatic cliffhanger, but the unresolved threads there remain largely unresolved here. I won't say which ones to keep this spoiler-free, but it's important to read this book with more appropriate expectations than what was set up by the publisher. You won't get all of your burning questions answered. Probably not any of them.

As for its positive attributes, the few sections narrated by Aunt Lydia are truly spectacular. Aunt Lydia has always been a captivating villain and pulling back the curtain on her thoughts is endlessly intriguing. Listeners of the audiobook are in for an additional treat, since they brought in Ann Dowd from the show to reprise her role for the reading.

Again, all in all, this is a decent yarn. It's not going to be a classic, but it's an okay pop novel. I knew pretty much from the first chapter that it wasn't going to deliver everything I desired for a sequel and by a quarter of the way in it was pretty clear what the ending surprise would be, but it still moved at a good pace and kept me moderately in suspense. For Handmaid’s Tale fans, as long as you lower your expectations there's no reason why you can't find enjoyment in these further adventures of Gilead.
Profile Image for Lisa.
977 reviews3,327 followers
September 22, 2019
"How tedious is a tyranny in the throes of enactment. It's always the same plot."

So why does Margaret Atwood choose to tell the story again? That question has haunted me since I heard the announcement of the project almost a year ago. WHY? I was convinced I would hate the hype and the gushing reviews and the book itself, and started reading with the attitude of someone who knew the story didn't need telling again.

To my surprise, I liked it from the start, and soon engaged in the thriller unfolding with a rare reading joy, still wondering why Atwood wasted her precious time on a sequel like this. Not much new was added to the dystopian plot of Gilead, I thought.

But then a shift occurred in my mind.

I always saw The Handmaid's Tale as a warning of the slow normalisation of religious fanaticism and of the strengthening of patriarchal structures in our modern era, and the story itself as a mirror of our all too human tendencies to adjust to the most absurd situations if we are caught off-guard and left confused.

The Testaments has a different purpose, and it comes as a challenge in the era of #MeToo. Don't accept the unacceptable. Act on injustice. Speak up. Do what has to be done to make the world safer for women and children. Say no to the objectification of your body. No tyranny will last forever if you are brave enough to do your individual bit.

Whenever Aunt Lydia's badly executed statue was mentioned, I had this strange feeling that it was some kind of Atwoodian insider joke, but I could not put my finger on the reference. In the end I gave up trying to figure out what she meant, as I found my own truth. And I had to wait until the very end: the last page made me laugh out loud.

Another scientific conference on Gileadean Studies, another reflection on the difficulty to find truth in details. Truth is in the symbol though, and that noseless, broken statue of Aunt Lydia that was found after the breakdown of Gilead spoke of the ephemeral immortality (deliberately oxymoronic from the start) that Ozimandias fell victim to in Shelley's famous sonnet. I will close with him, as he speaks of the timelessness of power(lessness) and (im)mutability:

"I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Nothing beside remains to be said. I leave my earlier testimonies as a tribute to the process of discovering the truth of the storyteller in each (his)story:

My predictions will face reality(or fiction?)-check now! I can't believe I am actually holding a brandnew copy of The Testaments in my hands... we are writing the date of 9/11 Anno Domini 2019.

Let the journey begin!

Thoughts on hearing it was coming in 2018:

Based on the scary prophetic power of some of Margaret Atwood's other dystopian social studies, I am not sure I can even stomach the idea of what will happen to Offred next.

May I suggest a feel-good start, changing her name into Nofred?

No, that's not going to happen. I think the world is currently growing into Margaret Atwood's new novel, demonstrating the insanity a bit more each day. Getting very, very impatient by now.

If I were to embrace a religion (No!), it would have to be the religion of literature, and I would praise the special god in Atwood's MaddAddam every day by now: "Oh Fuck", as Snowman-the-Jimmy said only when it was really, really bad (which was quite often).
Profile Image for Maria.
65 reviews8,487 followers
March 26, 2020
3.4/5 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️

“You don’t believe the sky is falling until a chunk of it falls on you.”

I'm very conflicted. I don't know if this book tricked me into liking it or if I actually do or don't. Because when I think about the characters and the plot a little more, I find problems. I'm very confused though.

This was a very anticipated and surprising book for many of us. We all know it happened because of the tv show but luckily they concealed it by developing a completely different plot with different characters that connected somehow to the original ones. Yes, because they could doesn't mean they should... but it was a story that indeed could be told. But it ruined the mystery that first book left in us you know? There is a trend in media these days with patronizing the fans and explaining to us through exposition every single thing like we're imbeciles. I love media which keeps all the mystery and lure you in without making everything blatantly obvious. This book explained too many things.

First of all, there are three different perspectives we see the world through here. "Baby Nicole", the Famous Aunt Lydia and a random but not so much at the end daughter of a commander, Agnes. Aunt Lydia's side was the most engaging and interesting to me. Yes, I have watched the show, yes, I fucking hate that bitch, but we see a different side of her here that I didn't anticipate. I will definitely be seeing her with a different light once the show is back on.

I found Nicole and Agnes to have the same voice and were kind of annoying sometimes. At first, I needed like half a page to understand which POV I was reading from. Especially with scenes when they ware together. I feel like Nicole gained more character when she went to Gilead, but this was just because she was different than all of them. Yes, I enjoyed the swears. Duh. But I wanted something more character wise? I didn't feel as whole as with June/Offred. She was such an engaging character. Maybe this happened because we had many POVs to read from? I can't say.

The plot felt somewhat... basic and expected? The book was definitely bigger than it should be. Too much exposition man. It wasn't boring at all for me... but I think the length could be lowered.

I don't know what to tell you, people. I'm still very puzzled. Read this book, of course, but don't have the expectation that you'll like it as much as the first one. But I gotta admit, this book gave me a big thirst for the show now. I can't wait for it to be back, honestly. Even though there we are in a completely different path. I want to see if anything will stay the same once we get more seasons and when it ends. Anyway, till the next one K BYE!
Profile Image for Charlotte May.
696 reviews1,073 followers
February 15, 2020
"But I had a third eye, in the middle of my forehead. I could feel it: it was cold, like a stone. It did not weep: it saw. And behind it someone was thinking: 'I will get you back for this. I don't care how long it takes or how much shit I have to eat in the meantime, but I will do it."

I wasn't sure at first how well a sequel written so long after book 1 would go down. I loved The Handmaid's Tale and I couldn't think how the story could have continued.

However, this sequel was fantastic! There are three POVs. Agnes Gemina, brought up in a commander's household in Gilead; the infamous Aunt Lydia and her villainous ways and finally Daisy, living in Canada with her parents - but with a secret identity.

The Testaments gives a different outlook on Gilead, we see things from the Aunt's perspective, we see part of the founding of Gilead and it's construction.

I loved the ending. It was absolutely what I wanted from it, couldn't have asked for anything else.

4 stars!
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,825 followers
November 15, 2019
3.5 to 4 stars

I was going to go with 3 stars because while I liked it, it did not impress me as much as the first book. But, after discussing the book with my wife at dinner last night, I realized I got more from it than I thought, so I am upping my rating a bit.

In the afterword, Atwood hints at the fact that this was written in response to the recently renewed popularity of the first book and the current state of affairs in America. Because of this, it does kind of read like it was written to appease the fans instead of an original sequel that she came up with all on her own. I am not saying this as a good or bad thing, it’s just how it felt to me – some people really like this sort of thing, so it may be perfect for you.

I really enjoyed the first half to two-thirds of the book. At first, I was not sure how much I would remember about the first book since it has been about three years since I read it. Also, I have not been watching the TV show. But, the book did a pretty good job getting me back into the story and I thought the story and character development were both very good.

However . . . with only about 25% of the book left, for me it got kind of “Hollywood” – a bit cheesy and unbelievable. Suddenly the characters were making odd choices that felt like they served no purpose other that to move the book quickly to a resolution. To have such a rushed and far-fetched resolution to such a richly developed story/dystopian world felt kind of weird. This is where the book lost points for me.

I think that fans of the book and TV show should give this one a try and likely enjoy it. However, be prepared to find it a bit lacking compared to the first book.
Profile Image for Melissa ~ Bantering Books.
205 reviews787 followers
March 25, 2021
Be sure to visit Bantering Books to read all my latest reviews.

The Handmaid's Tale is a modern classic. It is an important novel. It is a novel that I believe should be read by every woman at least once in her lifetime.

I hold it in the utmost regard, as I do Margaret Atwood. I marvel at her wisdom. I admire her intelligence. I wonder at her writing.

Because of my own personal appreciation for Atwood and The Handmaid’s Tale, I have delayed reading The Testaments. I have not wanted to be disappointed, even though deep down I knew it would be inevitable, to some extent. Because how could Atwood write a follow-up that could even compare to the brilliance of the original?

Many of the critics of this novel (and there have been MANY) feel that Atwood should never have ventured back into the world of Gilead. They strongly believe that the ambiguous ending of The Handmaid’s Tale is perfection and should not have been touched. To be fair, I don’t entirely disagree with this sentiment. I love the ending, as well, and have always felt satisfied with it.

But I am not one to ever bite the hand that feeds me. More Gilead? Please and thank you.

So, it was with realistically adjusted expectations that I read The Testaments. I crossed my fingers, held my breath, and hoped that I would at least like the novel.

And I did like it. I enjoyed The Testaments immensely. My worry was needless.

I do believe The Handmaid’s Tale will forever be the superior of the two novels, but without a doubt, Atwood has given us a worthy sequel.

Set fifteen years after the closing scene of The Handmaid’s Tale, with the totalitarian patriarchal theocracy of the Republic of Gilead still standing, the story of The Testaments is told through the viewpoints of three different women. Two of the three women are teenagers – Agnes, the daughter of a Commander in Gilead, and Daisy, a young woman living in Canada who witnesses the terrors of Gilead from afar. The third point of view is that of the infamous Aunt Lydia, inarguably the most influential, merciless woman in Gilead.

The lives of the three women eventually intertwine, as they each discover the extent of all they are willing to sacrifice in order to right the world.

Of the three viewpoints, Aunt Lydia is, by far, the most compelling voice. The chapters devoted to her are riveting. Through her secret writings, we are treated to an in-depth glimpse of the earlier fall of the United States and the methods used to capture and then convert the women to the belief system of the Sons of Jacob, the founders of the new world. We are also privy to the inner workings of Gilead and the machinations of both its male and female leadership.

The testimonies of Agnes and Daisy, while mostly interesting, do seem to pale in comparison to that of Aunt Lydia. It is clear who is the true star of the story.

But all three narrative threads succeed in one regard -- the personal stories of Aunt Lydia, Agnes, and Daisy will make you angry. The physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that is doled out by the society of Gilead is horrifying. (Sensitive readers, beware.) I felt that old, familiar anger returning while reading The Testaments. The exact same anger The Handmaid’s Tale instilled in me. An anger that has never fully dissipated.

An anger that, I think, speaks to the power of Atwood’s writing and the memorable world of Gilead that she has created.

I feel I should warn that The Testaments will likely not answer all the lingering questions you may have from The Handmaid’s Tale. Atwood leaves us with a vague understanding of the remainder of Offred’s life, but there are still many gaps left for our imaginations to fill. We must make peace with that fact.

But this time, even though we may not have all the answers we desire, we at least have hope. Atwood closes the novel on a much more optimistic note than she did in The Handmaid’s Tale. And once again, the ending feels so very satisfying.

For hope is beneficial to us all.

Bantering Books
Profile Image for jessica.
2,534 reviews32.5k followers
January 23, 2020
i know ive said this before, but just because an author can write a novel, does that really mean they should? i thought ‘the handmaids tale’ was strong enough on its own. yes, i had questions afterwards, but i like that the story is a reflection on real society, where we dont have all the answers.

and even though i did enjoy this solely from an entertainment perspective, i just dont find it necessary. i think atwood got caught up in all the success of the television adaptation and thought she could capitalise on writing a sequel. which i cant blame her for one bit - i would probably do the same. but again, this feels like a story that was forced to be written, not one that came organically or from inspiration.

its not even told similarly to the first book. while this sequel also (rightly) calls out todays society for the oppression of women, it feels like the narrative is telling me what to think, where ‘the handmaids tale’ forced me to come to my own conclusions. i dunno. its just a major stylistic/writing change (downgrade, even) that didnt make the story any better, in my opinion.

i do think those who find the world of gilead morbidly fascinating will enjoy this sequel and the new characters but, for me, im just left with the question of ‘why?’ which i unfortunately couldnt seem to get past.

2.5 stars
Profile Image for karen.
3,979 reviews170k followers
Want to read
January 23, 2020
i'm not saying i would, but if i wanted to steal this book, i know how i'd do it...

Profile Image for Meredith (Slowly Catching Up).
793 reviews12.4k followers
October 4, 2019

“One mysterious box, when opened, so often conceals another.”

In relation to The Handmaid’s Tale Hulu series, I found The Testaments entertaining. As a follow up to the novel, I found it lacking.

I am holding off on a complete review until I have finished rereading The Handmaid's Tale.

More to come!
Profile Image for Meike.
1,512 reviews2,453 followers
October 15, 2019
Winner of the Booker Prize 2019 (together with Girl, Woman, Other)
This is a flashy, placative, but also intelligent thriller, here to make some points about society and to entertain - it's certainly not the most layered or subtle literature ever written, but you know what? It's engaging, rather suspenseful and great fun to read, full of quips and commentary on the world we live in, and sometimes, that's more than enough. And honestly: The Handmaid's Tale wasn't particularly ambiguous or enigmatic either.

As we already know from the book's predecessor, the theocratic terror regime of Gilead did fall - the book ended with a historic symposium on the failed state. "The Testaments" now tells us how this downfall came about, and we hear the story from the alternating perspectives of three women: The infamous and powerful Aunt Lydia from #1, who is one of the women who helped develop the misogynist rules and rites of Gileadean society; a teenage girl who grows up in Gilead and is supposed to submit to her role as a women without any rights; and another young girl who lives in Canada (which borders to Gilead) and discovers her family's connection to Mayday, the resistance group that aims to save women and bring down the vicious regime. In case you are now wondering what happened to Offred, the handmaid at the center of #1, let me tell you that all of the characters are somehow connected to her - beware, readers, it does not make much sense to start "The Testaments" before reading The Handmaid's Tale first.

Atwood does a great job addressing all kinds of current issues within the narrative: Not only the misogyny of the current US President is lurking between the lines, there are also parts that refer to ISIS, the refugee crisis at state borders and in the Mediterranean, xenophobia and the lack of empathy and solidarity. Another important topic is that of opportunism: We learn how Aunt Lydia became an instrumental part in a machine that systemtically exploits and violates women, and as we all know, it's the mass of enablers who keep such machines running, not those at the very top. Just like in #1, the threat of fascism is at the core of the whole story: When inventing Gilead, Atwood was inspired by the diaries of Joseph Goebbels, and the appearence of the women in the book was influenced by the aesthetics of Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda film "Triumph of the Will".

And yes, Atwood paints with very broad brush strokes: This book is highly accessible, and readers aren't required to do much work themselves. I also suppose that the enormous marketing campaign put some people off and, in the eyes of quite a few readers, compromised the novel as a work of "serious" literature. I have to say that I don't really mind though: If "serious" movies with world-class actors can have major premiere events with red carpets, fancy dresses, press frenzy and all, why shouldn't a world-class writer like Margaret Atwood live it up at Waterstones London with her gang of Jeanette Winterson and freakin' Neil Gaiman as well as people dressed as handmaids and Pearl Girls while the whole literary world watches? More power to you, Ms Atwood!

So if you expect intricately crafted, subtly plotted, lyrically written prose, or a completely new twist on the whole Gilead saga, this novel will probably disappoint you. But if you want to read a straightfoward, intelligent, well-paced, witty thriller spiced with social commentary in which women take down the patriarchy, this is the book for you. This text has the potential to reach many readers who normally wouldn't pick up a book on feminism, and it will allow people to join the conversation.
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,118 reviews3,964 followers
October 10, 2019

Why did Atwood write this more than thirty years after The Handmaid’s Tale (see my review HERE), when she’d already written sequels to that for the TV series? Because “we started moving towards Gilead instead of away from it – particularly in the United States” and more specifically, to answer “How did Gilead fall?” and “How do you get to be such a person [as Aunt Lydia]?”.

Why read it? Hype, a heavy discount, and morbid curiosity. It’s an easy read and enough of a page-turner to finish quickly. It answers plenty of questions - and raises more.
No spoilers below.

But, it’s a weird hybrid. It’s almost as if she’d planned adult and YA versions, then wove them into a single plait.

The Decline and Fall…?

Per ardua cum estrus

The plot is predictable, the writing is full of clichés (excusable for Biblical homilies and Gilead sayings), and the more delicately variegated symbolism of Handmaid (especially red and tulips) degrades to more heavy handed mentions of flowers (usually blue ones - the colour for wives).

Image: Tulips and forget-me-nots (Source.)

Overall, it felt lazy, yet I eagerly read it to the end. It’s better than the unnecessary MaddAddam (see my review HERE) and the execrable The Heart Goes Last (see my review HERE).

Old and Wise or Young and Annoying?

There are three narrators, in short alternating chapters, mostly concerning events around 15 years after the end of Handmaid. It was obvious how and when the threads would cross and eventually join.

The “Ardua Hall Holograph” was secretly written by Aunt Lydia, as events unfolded, though with relevant backstory about her life before Gilead. The TV series had already presented a more rounded, complex, and sympathetic view of her than the original novel, and this expands on that. It’s 4*.

He owes me, but that could prove a liability. Some people do not enjoy being indebted.

Aunt Lydia is strong, shrewd, knowledgeable, and ruthless. She’s the chief Aunt, but no one expects a woman to do all that she does or know all that she knows; her increasing power goes unnoticed. She knows the value of information; she plots, and bides her time. I was reminded of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies (which I confess I saw on TV, rather than read).

The other sections are “Transcripts of Witness Testimony” by two different women, describing their teen years, apparently written years after the events described. Agnes, the wide-eyed innocent child of a commander in Gilead, and Daisy, a bit of a know-it-all, living free in Canada.

After a dramatic event, the change in Daisy’s character and voice is disproportionate. She becomes an insufferable teen, complete with irrelevant crush. Her adult self alters tone accordingly. As the end of the story approaches, the mood and intended audience feels increasingly like The Hunger Games (see my review HERE) and its ilk. Not my thing, so I rate these narrations 2*.

Contemporary Shadows?

All three women have at least two very different roles and identities during their lives. The different names are not confusing, but the switching is sometimes inconsistent and thus distracting. All three find risky ways to resist the patriarchy and to stand up for women.

This is written in the light (dark?) of #MeToo as much and the resurgence of religious-backed populist demagogues. Atwood is clearly on the side of women, and against authoritarian regimes, but I expect her readers already are. Unlike Handmaid, she doesn’t have anything very new to say, despite increased emphasis on bloodlines and whether the “real” mother is the one who gave birth or the one who raised and loved the child.


For reasons I cannot fathom, Peter Kemp classed this as comedy in his review for The Times. There was a puerile pun (the Aunts say "Pen Is Envy", because other women can’t read or write), but other than that…?

Rapid Reading?

I read this quickly for a book of more than 400 pages. More impressively, supplicant aunts, totally illiterate when they arrive in their mid teens, are fluent readers of adult books in less than six months, with a basic knowledge of geography too, even though most of each day is filled with arduous chores. As a former primary school teacher, I’d love to know how! (All we’re told is that they start off with Dick and Jane books, whose illustrations had the clothes made more modest.)

Meanwhile, Aunt Lydia’s favourite books are not quick reads: Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Paradise Lost, and Lives of Girls and Women. Quite a tribute to Alice Munro from her compatriot!


"History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes."

Like Handmaid, this ends with a Symposium of Gileadean Studies in the far future, discussing the newly-found testimonies (cassette tapes in Handmaid, documents here). It’s the first time we hear directly from a man.

He questions the authenticity and accuracy - as men often do with women’s testimonies. But it’s important in an academic context, dealing with a regime that ruled with fear and relentless propaganda, and where few women were able to write. Aunt Lydia had plenty of reasons justify her role in the regime, so her embroidery may not be of the petit-point variety that future wives were taught. But Atwood didn’t leave enough doubt to make it worth raising the question.

Image: Petit-point embroidered blue flowers (Source.)


For a book that is firmly against a perverted version of Christianity, redemption is a strong element.
• Aunt Lydia wants to redeem herself in the eyes of possible future readers.
• One person demonstrates the greatest love (John 15:13), yet we never hear from them directly.
• By the time I finished this review, Atwood had redeemed herself in my eyes. I am still a fan, though I prefer her earlier works.


• “She was no longer a precious flower, but a much more dangerous creature.” [Post puberty]

• “The body has its twitches, which it can be humiliating as well as rewarding to obey.” [Sex]

• “We were precious flowers that had to be kept safely inside glass houses, or else we would be ambushed and our petals would be torn off and oru treasure would be stolen and we would be ripped apart and trampled by the ravenous men who might lurk around any corner, out there in the wide sharp-edged sin-ridden world.” [Bit of a mouthful!]

• “The crocuses have melted, the daffodils have shrivelled to paper, the tulips have performed their enticing dance, flipping their petal skirts inside out before dropping them completely.”

• “Bibles brooded in the darkness of their locked boxes, glowing with arcane energy.”

• “Melanie had a distant smell… Like a floral guest soap in a strange house… She didn’t smell to me like my mother.”

• Family photos, “as if they lived their lives twice, once in reality and the second time for the photo.”

• “I feared I might lose my faith. If you’ve never had a faith, you will not understand… You feel as if your best friend is dying… The world was emptying itself of meaning.”

• “All that festers is not gold, but it can be made profitable in non-monetary ways.”

• “Gratitude is valuable to me. I like to bank it.”

• “Any forced change of leadership is always followed by a move to rush the opposition.”

• "How tedious is a tyranny in the throes of enactment. It's always the same plot."

• “It has an acid smell, fear. It’s corrosive.”

• “Terror does not exactly reign. Instead it paralyses.”

• “You’d be surprised who quickly the mind goes soggy in the absence of other people. One person alone is not a full person: we exist in relation to others.”

Image: Empty cradle (Source.)
Profile Image for Debbie W..
724 reviews487 followers
October 23, 2022
Why I chose to read this book:
1. I read (and enjoyed) Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale a few years back, so I thought I would check out the sequel (which I found at a secondhand shop); and,
2. I thought reading a dystopian novel would be a great way to round out April 2022, my "Fantasy and Science Fiction Month".

1. In The Handmaid's Tale, the POV was told by Offred, a Handmaid living in the dystopian Republic of Gilead. The Testaments was narrated by three different female POV - Aunt Lydia, an older woman who was one of Gilead's Founders; Agnes/Victoria, a young woman who, as a teenager, was a Precious Flower destined to be a Wife; and Daisy/Jade, a teenager living in Canada with a mysterious past. In my hardcopy, these POV were easy to follow as each chapter was labelled with an icon specific to each female narrator. Also, a listener could infer who the speaker was from the first couple of sentences in each chapter. Each character's story was so riveting to the plot, it was hard putting this book down, although I would have to honestly admit that Aunt Lydia was my favorite character to follow;
2. I appreciated the occasional dark humor; and,
3. the tri-colored front and back cover designs are far from simplistic as they convey interesting messages within the "hidden" icons.

As for the character of Daisy/Jade, I know that she's young and impetuous, but based on her storyline, I was somewhat confused that she didn't try harder to "fit in".

Overall Thoughts:
Author Margaret Atwood states that she wrote this sequel 35 years after The Handmaid's Tale in response to readers and viewers of the TV series who wanted to know what happened after the end of that novel and how Gilead fell. I was a little leery that this book would be a disappointment following The Handmaid's Tale, but now, after reading The Testaments, I just might go back and refresh my memory by rereading The Handmaid's Tale!
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,033 reviews48.5k followers
September 3, 2019
“The Testaments” opens in Gilead about 15 years after “The Handmaid’s Tale,” but it’s an entirely different novel in form and tone. Inevitably, the details are less shocking — at least in part because the horrors of Gilead’s male-centered theocracy are already so well known. When Offred first told her “sad and mutilated story,” we were hearing about the hangings, the Unbabies and the Sons of Jacob for the first time. But by now, Gildead’s breeding Ceremony is a creepy cultural touchstone.

Atwood responds to the challenge of that familiarity by giving us the narrator we least expect: Aunt Lydia. It’s a brilliant strategic move that turns the world of Gilead inside out. In “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Aunt Lydia is the orthodox teacher whose platitudes and instructions cycle through Offred’s mind. But in “The Testaments,” Aunt Lydia speaks directly to us in all her conflicted complexity. She has become the supreme matriarch of this masculine cult. “I control the women’s side of their enterprise with an iron fist in a leather glove in a woollen mitten,” she says. “And I keep things orderly: like a harem eunuch.” As a living legend, the very model of moral perfection and feminine wisdom, she enjoys a special position of extraordinary power — and she knows just how. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,776 reviews1,255 followers
October 15, 2019
Joint Winner of the 2019 Booker Prize - which I captured in this photo.


You’ll labour over this manuscript of mine, reading and rereading, picking nits as you go.

I was fortunate enough to attend one of the live cinema screenings of the readings and author Q&A from the National Theatre on the evening of the book's official publication, managing to complete my first read of the book just as the event started.

The event was excellent - and I think only reinforced my view that Handmaid's Tale is a great works of fiction. Great firstly because it proved so prescient - I always felt that Brave New World was a better written book than 1984, but only one is still widely quoted and referred to today - and Handmaid's Tale has I think equalled if not eclipsed 1984. And great also because it has inspired and resonated with so many people.

Trump and anti-abortion male legislatures (Atwood remarked that young, fertile women - a minority in any society have across so many civilisations and cultures been a resource that society feels it can shape for its own purpose and without their consent) have been subject to the silent but dramatically effective protest of the Handmaids.

Even these last two weeks in the light of the proposed (and now executed) prorogation of the UK parliament a quote from the Handmaid's Tale is going viral:

"That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn't even any rioting in the street. People stayed at home at night, watching television"

So to the extent that the publication of the Testaments causes people to revisit the novel - address some of the misconceptions around its message, celebrate Atwood as a writer then I welcome it.

But it is the novel itself where I start to pick nits:

Atwood has said that she was inspired to write the novel as she wanted to examine how oppressive regimes fall, and perhaps secondarily to explore how people survive in those regimes and even what causes people to resist the regimes.

On the second front I think she does succeed. The Aunt Lydia character is an excellent one - inspired heavily by Thomas Cromwell. From the event this evening Atwood is fascinated by the paralles between Gilead and Henry VIIs court and particularly the way in which Thomas Cromwell navigated his way to a position of power while carrying out his own schemings. She is obviously familiar with and a fan of both the Mantel trilogy (well the two published and knows of the one to come - she jokingly stage whispered "it doesn't end well for him") and the Diarmaid MacCulloch biography last year (she did not mention the author).

On the first though I struggle really to see the insights she brings. Atwood has made a big thing - in both books (and as a pre-condition for the TV serialisation of the Gilead world) that all events must have a basis in real life events. However I am struggling to tie the way in which the Gilead regime to the downfall of various regimes that she references heavily as inspirations for the book. These include USSR (where the Stalinist purges are a key inspiration for this novel), East Germany (more of an inspiration for the first), Pinochet's Chile, the Argentina Junta (the latter two inspiring the stadium scenes in this book and the disappeared babies of Argentina having clear parallels with one of the characters here). In most if not all the cases the actual abuses of the regime I think emerged as a result of (and post) their fall rather than precipitating it.

And the resistance part of the novel ends more as a rather simplistic adventure story - I don't really read literary fiction for passages like this

“Glad you made it,” said Captain Mishimengo. He shook our hands; he had two fingers missing. He was stocky, about sixty, with tanned skin and a short black beard. “Now here’s our story, supposing you’re asked: this is a cod schooner, solar, with fuel backup. Flag of convenience is Lebanon. We’ve delivered a cargo of cod and lemons by special licence, which means the grey market, and now we’re heading back out. You’ll need to stay out of sight during the day: I heard from my contact, via Bert who dropped you at the dock, that they’re bound to be looking for you soon. There’s a place for you to sleep, in the hold. If there’s an inspection, coast guard, it won’t be thorough, it’s guys we know.” He rubbed his fingers together, which I knew meant money.

I also felt that rather than illuminating how things in Gilead worked, the book at times struggled to maintain a coherent and consistent world view (for example I was not entirely convinced how the extreme punitive emphasis on the sanctity of the handmaids tied with the dentists ability to abuse children; the food shortages did not always seem prevalent; the continuing use of "MayDay" as a password by an organisation known to everyone as MayDay, and the addition of "June Moon" to add more secrecy is just silly) and other than the Pearl Girls I did not gain as much additional understanding of new depths to the societal picture as I had wished.

And whereas I liked the Aunt Lydia character - her depth and complexity, the other characters seemed far more one-dimensional. While I think I can excuse this for the Gilead based girl (and I think she does give a sense of how people can rapidly become assimilated to any culture if they have grown up with it); the Canadian girl was much less convincing - the device of having her unable to curb her language, attitude or atheism was significantly over-used and her (lack of) reaction to the murder of the people she thought were her parents for the first 16 years of her life was simply implausible.

The book ends - like Handmaid's Tale - with a 22nd Century Symposium looking back at the events of Gilead and using source materials (which are effectively the book we have been reading).

This is one area where The Testaments is better constructed than its predecessor - we are given more convincing explanations of the provenance of the documents that make the novel and even a clever hint by Atwood (via a link with Mary Queen of Scots and the Casket Letters) that the Aunt Lydia piece may even be a fake - Atwood left a rather hanging comment in the launch event that she is "fascinated by forgeries".

The character links between this book and its predecessor (taken for granted in pretty well every review - not least due to the influence of the TV series) are instead described as "not definitively excluded .... jumping to conclusions .... [for] future scholars to examine"

We are also told that the Professor and his assistant prepared a "facsimile edition of the three batches of materials, which we have interleaved in an order that made approximate narrative sense to us" - initially for the symposium attendees but also for the "benefit of a broader audience".

And here I think is the crux of my dilemma with this novel. The Handmaid's Tale even as a novel had moved well beyond the literary fiction space, and the TV series took it into popular culture. Atwood has I think written a novel which is deliberately broad in its appeal: it cleverly builds on the novel, fan theories and the TV series while adding her own stamp; it is also much more clearly an adventure type book and less literary. But its those very strengths which I think will lessen its appeal to fans of literary fiction.

So on the day of its publication I am: more convinced then ever of the greatness of its predecessor; glad I read this book; pleased it has been written; unconvinced of its individual literary merits; of the view that a lifetime achievement Nobel Prize would be a more appropriate recognition for the author than the Booker would be for this book.
Profile Image for Paula K .
420 reviews424 followers
December 4, 2019
Co-winner of the Booker prize 2019

Brilliant! Absolutely phenomenal!

What a fantastic ride coming back to the world of Gilead 15 years later. The sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale is written very different from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic, but in no way does it suffer as a follow-up. The Testaments is superbly narrated by three women- two young women with one who escaped to Canada as a child, the other raised in Gilead, and, last but not least, the very powerful and dangerous, Aunt Lydia. I am thankful to have listened to the audiobook as the voice of Aunt Lydia is narrated by the formidable actress Ann Dowd who plays said character in the amazing Hulu series.

If you wish to learn about the secrets of Gilead and how Aunt Lydia got to where she was, do read this book. It is exceptionally suspenseful and entertaining and meshes well with the Hulu series.

The Testaments gave me the shivers many times while listening...so frightening at times...

5 out of 5 Booker worthy stars

Profile Image for Sara.
1,080 reviews359 followers
September 23, 2019
3.5 stars.

It pains me to write this, because I love The Handmaid's Tale, but this book just felt incredibly unnecessary. The plot is predictable, with ‘revelations’ that are glaringly obvious, and characters that just don’t have the same level of depth of emotion that Offred had. With The Handmaid’s Tale, we have a novel that leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination. The ending is ambiguous and interesting, with a story that features an incredibly narrowed view of a world by a woman so obviously wronged by it, and I felt that all of that is taken away here. Blanks are filled that didn’t need filling in, and it ends up just feeling gratuitous.

Unlike The Handmaid’s Tale, this is told through the interweaving lives of three women. One, a girl growing up in Canada with a mysterious link to Gilead, one a girl growing up within the walls of Gilead, and Aunt Lydia - a founder Aunt, and a character we first see from Offred’s perspective in The Handmaid’s Tale. Aunt Lydia’s is by far the most interesting perspective, as we delve into her past and some of the more dubious choices she makes to become so powerful in a world that favours men. In terms of her story, I enjoyed looking back at the founding of Gilead and the struggles women faced during the initial upheavals, and their transition from powerful professions like lawyers and doctors, to nothing. If anything, I would have liked more of this time period to add some more emotional depth to the future plots. Some of Aunt Lydia’s decisions later on the book also seemed a little out of character however, and I struggled to understand her reasonings behind them, given what she goes through to ‘get to the top’. I did love her interactions with the other founder Aunts though and the many levels of scheming and backstabbing that goes on amongst them. They made the chapters, and I would have loved if this was explored more.

In terms of the other characters, Agnes and Daisy, I struggled to differentiate between the two at times, as their voices are so similar. I also didn’t find their stories particularly engaging and Daisy in particular is extremely irritating at times. The passage of time over the overall plot is also a little disorientating, without any clear idea of how much time passes between chapters. Agnes goes from being a child to early twenties with very little comment. The use of secondary characters in these later chapters is also largely underdeveloped, and used only for plot progression (a very obvious one) that makes future developments feel a little cheap.

I know I’ve mainly slated this, but I do love Atwood’s writing style. After a slow start getting in to this, I flew through it in a couple of days - which can be credited to Atwood’s ability to create a world I still find deeply intriguing. I just wish there had been more to add to this story instead of taking away my wonderful experiences of the original novel. Disappointing.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,539 followers
February 15, 2020
In The Testaments, Margaret Atwood brings a thrilling conclusion to the story she started with The Handmaid's Tale about the dystopian Gilead. It does not contradict the previous novel and is not inconsistent with the television series starting the amazing Elisabeth Moss.

One of the key differences between this book and its predecessor is that rather than being narrated by June/Offred, this book has multiple narratives: Aunt Lydia (the same one from before), Agnes (a Commander's daughter inside Gilead), and Daisy (a slightly older girl in Toronto). I enjoyed seeing the story from Aunt Lydia's point of view as well as the intertwined stories of the other two girls. There is a lot of suspense here, perhaps less innovation though since we are already familiar with Gilead and its eccentricities from The Handmaid's Tale, but I think that Atwood did a nice job filling in some blanks and in bringing us some closure with some of our favorite characters.

In order to avoid spoilers, I will just say that I found this book very satisfying and deserving of the Man Booker Prize which it won in 2019.
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,206 followers
September 12, 2019
Here I also keep another set of files, accessible only to a very few; I think of them as the secret histories of Gilead. All that festers is not gold, but it can be made profitable in non-monetary ways: knowledge is power.
Aunt Lydia

It was an “extraordinarily complicated process” to get copies of the manuscript, which is protected by a “ferocious” non-disclosure agreement.
Chair of Booker Judges as told to the Guardian

When, in 2197, the Thirteenth Symposium on Amazonian Studies takes place, the assembled historians, looking for evidence of the Great Amazon PRH war, will pore over the details of the launch of The Testaments as one of the first skirmishes that signalled the epic conflict to come.

With a midnight launch planned by PRH for September 9th 2019, a plan with which the Amazonias had officially concurred, suddenly on September 3rd the Twittersphere was set ablaze by two separate breaches of the agreement.

Select Agents of the mysterious Prime organisation had been sent copies of the top-secret document, although the Amazon empire denied any deliberate malpractice and even, although only once it was too late to remedy the situation, issued a, nearly unprecedented, apology via diplomatic channels.

Simultaneously media outlets in the free world began to release details of The Testaments, despite a worldwide embargo, the first from the publicly funded NPR, quickly followed by the Washington Post and New York Times, each competing to reveal as many of the secrets as possible. How this information was shared despite a strict worldwide embargo remains unclear, but a microdot may have played a part:

“Microdot?” I asked. “What is that?”
“An old technology that has fallen into disuse, but that is still perfectly viable. Documents are photographed with a miniature camera that reduces them to microscopic size. Then they are printed on minute plastic dots, which can be applied to almost any surface and read by the recipient with a custom viewer small enough to be concealed in, for instance, a pen.”
“Astonishing,” I exclaimed. “Not for nothing do we at Ardua Hall say ‘Pen Is Envy.’”

It was a fascinating saga, which is unfortunately rather more than (that one good joke aside) I can say for the book itself. Atwood was once an author whose books I eagerly awaited but this, after Hag Seed and The Heart That Goes Last, is the third major disappointment of recent years.

Ultimately Atwood appears to be trying to please too many audiences at once: those who have been waiting 35 years for a sequel to the Handmaid's Tale, and forming their own theories in the meantime: fans of the TV series (who feel the primary target); and prize judges swayed by ferocious NDAs. Indeed there are some quite clever nods to each group that will pass others by. But the net effect is to leave this literary fiction fan distinctly underwhelmed. The end result has cardboard characters (a cliched teenager who seems completely unphased by the death of her parents in a terrorist attack, rapidly followed by being told they weren't her real parents), a hokey plot (as pointed out by Gumble's Yard, the infamous resistance organisation Mayday has as its password ... Mayday?!) and a tedious drip..drip..drip of revelations that are obvious to the reader well beforehand (to be fair not helped by the fact that all the early embargo breaking press reviews competed to reveal as much of the plot as possible).

1.5 stars rounded up to 2 for the fun of the botched launch.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,048 followers
September 14, 2019
I've had less than good experiences in my last few Atwood reads - first I spent money on the novella series that was then removed from my Kindle with no renumeration. Then I held off and finally read The Heart Goes Last and ended up sorely disappointed in it. You can read my 2-star review but part of my complaint had to do with a feeling of author laziness on some level. Claiming it was an all new book, but to me half of it being very familiar since I'd already read it in the novella version. And paid for it twice.

I've reread The Handmaid's Tale in the last few years, and it holds up. The MaddAddam trilogy has a fond place in my heart. I don't believe I should have to watch a TV series to appreciate a book, and this forms the major part of my criticism of this book. I did watch the first season of The Handmaid's Tale, but the episodes came slower and slower, because I was having nightmares. I delayed watching the second season because real life seemed dark enough, and my husband finally went ahead and watched it without me.

When I got to the end of this book, I went and read the synopses of seasons 2 and 3 of the show and here's the thing - this book intertwines with the show and you simply will not understand it without all the parts. This is more aggravating than I can express.

My second major complaint is a complex frustration of this book being included in the Man Booker Shortlist. It is a good enough book in the sense that there are three narrators that rotate and tell different pieces of a somewhat exciting story, but as others have pointed out since two of the narrators are teenagers the novel reads like a pretty typical dystopian YA novel. And maybe not the best one I've ever read (The Hunger Games, for instance, has far more complexity, higher stakes, and dynamic characters.) The writing serves for the pace of a thriller-dystopia but there is nothing literary about it. Even Justin Cronin's vampire novels are of a more literary nature than this book, and I feel like the Man Booker judges are decades, maybe centuries, away from considering such a novel on their list. It does not deserve the spot it is occupying; there were books far better in writing and creativity and voice that were excluded for what, a nostalgia spot?

This is not the bitter accusations of someone who is whining because she didn't get a review copy. I don't always, I'm not important enough, so I hadn't even tried. I was happy to purchase it the day it came out in Audible and listen to it in all my spare time to finish it by last night.

I also feel the book leaves several questions unanswered but as a reader, I don't even know if I should remark on them or assume they are explained in the show, to the extent that Margaret Atwood felt she didn't need to. For now I'll let them be.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,890 reviews1,920 followers
October 21, 2019
UPDATE OCTOBER 2019 The Coode Street Podcast goes into the SFnal roots of this title.

My hold came in today!! The librarians saw my name on the holds list and our library bought one, instead of relying on the system's many multiple copies. That way I got my hold immediately instead of being wherever I was, deep in the triple digits.

They like me. They really like me.
All three stars are for Aunt Lydia's sections. Agnes is annoying, a lump of nothing as required by her upbringing; it didn't make her any fun at all to read about. Daisy is intolerable, both for her backstory and her impossibly selflessly perfect nature; we're unsurprised at her actions because she is The Chosen One.

Try this: Only read Aunt Lydia's sections, flipping quickly past the character-as-mouthpiece young women. You'll get an interesting sidebar to the amazing [The Handmaid's Tale]. Aunt Lydia's story is, in fact, better than the original book.

I'll only get yelled at if I say more so that's it.
Profile Image for Neale .
292 reviews132 followers
September 15, 2019
At the opening of The Testaments, a statue is unveiled. This is a statue of the infamous, puppet-master, Aunt Lydia. Readers of The Handmaid’s Tale will know her well.

The Testaments is narrated by three narrators, but Aunt Lydia is the dominant of the three. Through her secretive writings, we learn of her history, and how she rose to power to become the mastermind that sets in motion the destruction of Gilead. Again readers of The Handmaid’s Tale will recognise the diary style of writing that is employed by Aunt Lydia as she records her actions and deeds, hopefully to be found by historians in the future.

Aunt Lydia is such a wonderful character and the irony in which a woman, albeit the most powerful of the Aunts, but still a woman, seen by the men of the Republic of Gilead as second class citizens, barely more than vessels for carrying babies, brings the Republic crashing down around their heads.

Aunt Lydia may be the dominant narrator, but the other two have vital roles to play in the narrative as well. Their chapters are labelled as “Witness Testimony 369A” and “Witness Testimony 369B” respectively. Both narrators give the reader valuable insight to Gilead and how young impressionable minds are easily directed and nurtured into the beliefs of a theocracy. One comes from outside Gilead and provides a contrasting view to the other who was raised in Gilead. Atwood skilfully shifts perspective back and forth with these characters at just the right moments and it works a treat.

It is interesting towards the end of the book when the young girl raised in Gilead does not even know how big Gilead is, its geographical location, which countries surround it and share borders. This is what happens when a theocracy is in power and the women, apart from the Aunts, are not even allowed to read. Information, and intelligence, as Aunt Lydia proves so succinctly are a powerful weapon.

This book was always going to face intense scrutiny being the sequel to such a classic book and the
length of years it has taken Atwood to answer her fan’s pleas. The Testaments has a very different feel to The Handmaid’s Tale, but for me at least, it loses nothing in comparison. After reading some negative reviews, I went back and read this a second time because I was enjoying it so much. I think that most readers will agree that this novel will not be considered the classic that The Handmaid’s Tale is, but for sheer enjoyment, it holds its head high. To be able to find out the history of Aunt Lydia, and to watch her plan and scheme the destruction of Gilead was worth reading the book for me.

There is a tenuous link found at the end of the book to Offred, that will tantalise fans of the first book.

Just like any sequel trying to live up to impossible hype, this book is going to have its critics, but if you are a fan of the world of Gilead, I urge you to give it a try, you may be pleasantly surprised.
A well deserved 4 Stars!
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,135 reviews8,140 followers
October 6, 2019
[3.5 stars] So I'm finally getting around to reviewing this. I finished it about 2 weeks ago, and didn't really mean to wait that long to write a proper review of it—but I'm glad I did. As I've sat with this book after finishing it, I think my initial feelings have faded a tiny bit. I will say first and foremost, reading this was incredibly enjoyable. It affirmed my love of Atwood's writing, at a sentence level, and storytelling. Her ability to weave plots and deliver complex themes in a very accessible but elevated way is quite a feat. I'm impressed that she can balance a propelling, engaging story with complicated characters all wrapped in beautiful prose.

That being said, I think this one is really hard for me to rate/review because I am such a fan of the show, and this is sort of auxiliary material if you watch the show. BUT, you do NOT have to watch the show to read this book. If you've only read The Handmaid's Tale but never seen the show, you can absolutely read this. There will just be some little easter eggs you will miss or reveals you won't see coming, but watching the show is NOT required to read this by any means.

Unlike the first Handmaid's novel, however, I found this one to be a bit tidy. It's a lot more crafty and, maybe, because it has the show to play off of, feels almost restricted by what it can and cannot do. After thinking about it for a couple of weeks, I've had less to stew on than when I originally read The Handmaid's Tale. This one definitely seems to tie things up a bit more neatly and may serve as a coda for whenever the show is finally finished. But at this point, who knows what the show will choose to do with the information here. It doesn't really matter.

I'd still recommend this one for fans of the first book, and especially for viewers of the show, but it might not have the staying power that book #1 had for me. Nevertheless, Atwood is a skilled storyteller and writer who will keep you turning the pages.
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