‘You don’t believe the sky is falling until a chunk of it falls on you…’
I was a latecomer to Margaret Atwood, but since reading the excellent Oryx and Crake series I have become a big fan. I went back and revisited The Handmaid’s Tale and then watched the explosive TV adaptation and loved all of it. I was reticent when it came to reading The Testaments. How could Atwood follow one of the most revered books of the last century? I needn’t have worried, The Testaments is an entertaining and compelling read that does justice to the source material whilst also taking the story to a new level. There are moments that stretch the definition of credibility however…
The Testaments has a trio of narrators in the form of the formidable Aunt Lydia, the pious and devout Aunt Agnes and the Gilead refugee Daisy. The three stories eventually intertwine in a way that sometimes fits a little too perfectly – some of the plot contrivances are scarcely credible – but Atwood’s great skill is how much she makes you care about these characters. Managing to engender sympathy for a character as monstrously callous as Aunt Lydia is no mean feat, and crucially, nothing here feels out of step or forced. The snippet of backstory we do receive about Lydia is just enough to justify her actions in this novel.
The other two protagonists are less interesting. Aunt Agnes’ journey from reluctant wife to devoted Aunt has great moments, but Daisy’s character seems to be just a stock teenage girl with no other notable character traits besides being a bit of a bitch. Having spent a fair amount of time around teenagers, this is a fair appraisal, but it is also a lazy one. Too often, Daisy feels like a Macguffin, only there to move the plot along.
That being said, I never came close to being bored throughout The Testaments, and it felt giddily exciting just to be part of this world again. It also compared favourably with the disappointing latest series of the TV adaptation. It’ll be interesting to see where this world takes us next.