The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: I Didn’t Like It As Much As Everyone Else Did

November 7, 2019 Fiction 7

The Testaments by Margaret AtwoodFiction – Literary
Released September 10, 2019
422 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it…if you’re dying to know how things turn out.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Nan A. Talese)

Headline

People are rating The Testaments 5 stars left and right, but I found the beginning confusing and the entire first half a bit of a slog.

Plot Summary

The Testaments picks up about 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale left off, telling the story of what came after through the eyes of three protagonists: Agnes (a Commander’s daughter), Aunt Lydia (the head of “the Aunts”), and Daisy (a Canadian girl). 

Why I Read It

I loved The Handmaid’s Tale (the book…I still haven’t watched the Hulu TV series) and some trusted recommendation sources rated The Testaments 5 stars. For a bit of context about my perspective, I read The Handmaid’s Tale about 5 years ago and re-read the “Historical Notes” right before starting The Testaments.

Major Themes

Gender rights, totalitarianism, subversion

What I Liked

  • I adore Atwood’s straightforward writing style. 
  • I was invested in Daisy’s narrative and was engrossed in the story during her chapters. Thankfully, she became a larger part of the story as the book went on.
  • I stopped zoning out around the halfway mark and felt the story really picked up at that point. I started to feel closer to the characters and care about them more.
  • I did enjoy going back in time to learn a bit about how Gilead came into being and about how Aunt Lydia ended up there, which we learn through flashbacks.

What I Didn’t Like

  • I was completely confused during the first couple chapters of the book. I couldn’t tell who was narrating or what time period we were in. I had to text a friend who’d already read it for help. I always wonder why authors/publishers do this to readers…do they think they’re making the book seem “smarter” by confusing the reader or making the reader work really hard to orient themselves? I don’t see the harm in adding chapter headings saying who the narrator is.
  • I also wonder if I was disoriented from re-reading the “Historical Notes” from The Handmaid’s Tale right before I started The Testaments. I kept thinking the Holograph in The Testaments were what Offred had left in the footlocker that’s mentioned in The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Epilogue. So, I kept trying to fit Offred into one of the narrator slots.
  • I was less invested in Aunt Lydia and Agnes’s narratives and kept zoning out during those chapters…especially during the first half of the book.
  • The big reveal was very obvious to me and I saw it coming a mile away.

A Defining Quote

For a time I almost believed what I understood I was supposed to believe. I numbered myself among the faithful for the same reason that many in Gilead did: because it was less dangerous. What good is it to throw yourself in front of a steamroller out of moral principles and then be crushed flat like a sock emptied of its foot? Better to fade into the crowd, the piously praising, unctuous, hate-mongering crowd. Better to hurl rocks than to have them hurled at you. Or better for your chances of staying alive. They knew that so well, the architects of Gilead. Their kind has always known that.

Good for People Who Like…

Dystopian novels, political novels, straightforward writing.

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7 Responses to “The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: I Didn’t Like It As Much As Everyone Else Did”

  1. Susie | Novel Visits

    I’ve been completely on the fence about reading The Testament. I loved The Handmaids Tale when I read it years ago. I also didn’t watch the Hulu series, but still want to. I just worried that this sequel came less organically and more because it was “time” to publish this kind of story. Based on your thoughts, I think I’ll skip it!

  2. Rachael | Booklist Queen

    I wasn’t a fan either. It’s funny because I hated Daisy’s storyline. She just seemed like a whiny inept teenager to me. The whole thing seemed made for TV.

    By the way, the little icons at the chapter heading were supposed to help you decipher narrator, though I don’t know how that would come through on audio.

  3. Liz Dexter

    A fair critique, I think. I re-read The Handmaid’s Tale almost directly before reading this, which did help, especially as it turned out I’d only read Handmaid’s Tale once before, aged about 18, and had it mixed up with another dystopian novel! I kept control of it OK but read it in big chunks, which I think helped. I loved hearing how Aunt Lydia got from then to now. I’ve not watched the TV series but friends who have were less ambivalent about Aunt Lydia, interestingly.

  4. Diane

    I just finished the audio version (no review yet). I liked it but didn’t love it but thought it was a good followup.

  5. Kelly

    I thought the same thing–I liked it, but definitely not as much as everyone else! The book very much follows the TV show more than the first book, so I think it helps to have watched that. Tip for readers–the icons at the beginning of the chapters let you know who’s narrating that chapter (not sure if these appear on electronic versions).

  6. Allison @ My Novel Life

    I really enjoyed the audiobook of The Testaments, and after reading your review I can see why. The three different perspectives were read by three different narrators, so it was very easy to keep all of the chapters and timelines straight. I can definitely see how it would be confusing without the different voices. Also, one of the joys of audiobook listening is that you can crank up the speed during the slow parts! I also didn’t watch the Hulu series and I felt like I was missing a few things. It seemed like I should’ve known who baby Nicole was, but I don’t remember any mention of her in Handmaid’s Tale. I read The Handmaid’s Tale as a naive high school student with no real understanding of feminism or questioning the system. It was really nice to go back to Gilead and watch it all unravel. I’d say it was a solid four stars for me.

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