The Testaments
September 10, 2019 11:57 AM - by Margaret Atwood - Subscribe

I got my copy last night and I'm about halfway through. IT IS SO GOOD.
posted by Aquifer at 1:45 PM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

It really is! I mean, I can't think of a time Margaret Atwood has let me down, but I was so nervous about this one. I read the first book shortly after it came out, and have spent the subsequent 30-odd years wondering about what a continuation of the story would be like, and I wasn't at all disappointed. I only stopped reading it long enough to let my iPad recharge at about the 75% point, so I basically devoured it, and will go back in a day or two and read it again -- more critically, perhaps -- but right now I am still kind of dazzled by my initial impression. I do have to say I found Aunt Lydia to be the most compelling narrator of the three; she is fascinating. Atwood writes that sort of character so well.
posted by skybluepink at 2:06 PM on September 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yes, I was one of the lucky people who received my copy early and I sat down to read a few pages and read it in one sitting. I don't even know when the last time I did that.

The biggest criticism I've seen of the book is that it's insufficiently bleak and hopeless. I would argue that the purposes of the books are different because they were written during different times: the original book was intended as a warning, while this book is intended as a motivator to at least try in the face of overwhelming awfulness, even if you don't know what the outcome might be.
posted by past unusual at 3:05 PM on September 10, 2019 [6 favorites]

Read it in one sitting, too, too the detriment of my sleep schedule. I loved it but at the same time I found the prose not as gorgeous as in the Handmaid's Tale. Then again, these were different voices speaking, so...
posted by litlnemo at 3:56 PM on September 10, 2019

Yes, SO GOOD. I got mine on Kindle approximately 24 hours ago and read it in a couple of sittings (quick reading to get to the information; a slow read for savouring of writing will come later).

I found Aunt Lydia the most compelling narrator as well. There are so many layers to her, and to her role in Gilead, and so many motivations.

And I am glad it had a hopeful ending, and was struck by the difference between the two symposia on Gileadan studies - the 12th at the end of THT, and the 13th at the end of The Testaments - and also the similarities.
posted by andraste at 6:04 PM on September 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

It is very good, I am about halfway through it but I just want one moment of primal screaming about "the Underground Femaleroad" I MEAN FUCKING SERIOUSLY ATWOOD FUCK AAARGGGHHH
posted by MiraK at 10:30 AM on September 11, 2019

ok, I am having a bit of difficulty reconciling the two books -- that is, unless the ending of the first book is actually the same as the ending of Season 1 of the tv show. In other words, that when she goes off in the van, it is only for a short time and then she goes right back to the Waterfords; it is not a rescue or a permanent detention.

Because Baby Nicole seems to be pretty much the same character as on the show, and the implication is strong in book 2 that she was taken to Canada when "stolen" from the Waterfords. (A commander who was purged, which Waterford was according to the epilogue of Book 1.)

Given the ending of Book 1, in which we didn't even know for sure if June was pregnant yet, how can Nicole be a child of the Waterfords, if June had already left them at the end of the book?

I suppose if June arrived in Canada while pregnant, and was publicly known to have ended up there, that even if she gave birth in Canada, Gilead would consider Nicole the Waterfords' stolen daughter... I suppose I'd have to reread, but I don't think the book said she was born in Canada, though.

Am I missing something?
posted by litlnemo at 4:51 PM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was confused by that as well, litlnemo. I plowed through the book quickly, so I may have missed it, but the iconic photo of Baby Nicole was said to be the only known one of her in Gilead, and I don't recall reading about when/where it was taken. I can't see that where she was born would have any impact on the official Gilead line on to whom she 'belonged', and from an internal propaganda perspective, they would certainly be capable of flat-out lying about her origin story.
posted by skybluepink at 12:20 AM on September 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Can we talk about how Hulu has already optioned The Testaments and the idea of a whole series of lots of Anne Dowd makes me grin from ear to ear? Yeah yeah maybe they have to age make-up her, or maybe they don't, I'll suspend my disbelief.
posted by emkelley at 12:44 PM on September 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

I’m about halfway through and digging it so far. The design and layout of the book deserves kudos; you’re never guessing which of the three main plots/narrators that you’re reading.
posted by dr_dank at 11:24 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm about 80% done with the book and I'm feeling a bit.... ehh? The writing quality has dropped precipitously from the beginning, there is not much sense to what's happening with this plot, and people's motivations are unfathomable. Are spoilers allowed on this thread? I would love for someone to explain to me why the hell this stuff is happening because I'm kind of annoyed with the randomness of it.
posted by MiraK at 5:15 PM on September 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

Done! The ending feels good, and I'm glad that this harrowing saga gets to go in that direction.

But I still gotta say this is not a well written book, nor even one that is well thought through. Worse, the happy ending rings false to me, given current events (like, who here thinks we have any shortage of scandals being exposes in our media?), and Aunt Lydia remains confusing, insufficiently explained. Frustrating! But yay! I think!
posted by MiraK at 6:01 PM on September 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

I didn't quite make the "read at one sitting" goal, but came as close as I could, because, after all, I've been waiting for years to find out what happened next! I'm glad to have read my library's copy, and after the initial hold list has gone down a bit, I'll probably read it again. That said, a few observations:

1) Aside from the opening lines, Atwood's voice is much less Atwoodish than usual. I missed her play with language, gone in favor of plot. She's considerably less chilly here than in her other work.Not warm, exactly, but much less analytical and self-reflective.Aunt Lydia comes the closest to vintage Atwood: intelligent, careful, formal, occasionally rueful, controlled.

2) Though Agnes Jemima is looking back and telling her story retrospectively, she doesn't sound as naive and sheltered as I had expected; Daisy, not as young and rebellious. These voices aren't quite convincing, and are too generic for my taste.

3) However, I liked the world-building, and very much appreciated the structure of the book. I don't miss male voices. The Testaments reminds me most of The Robber Bride, but with Zenia reflecting on her motives and methods.

4) I know that Atwood kept clippings from newspapers when she was writing The Handmaid's Tale, and must have been picking set pieces for The Testaments as well. The emphasis is more on what happened than what daily life looked and felt like, and the missing details are, well, missed, after all, at one point, a character apologetically says that she regrets focusing on the small details of a situation because her world is constricted. But that's what I wanted: more on what one is forced to notice in a repetitive, restrictive environment, and the small signs and perilous interpretations by which one survives. I feel like this all but disappears after the big identity reveal, even when a major character is plunged into a radically new place and way of being.

I am grateful Atwood wrote this book, and I am glad I now know more about what happened in this world. I's not a perfect piece, or even the best of Atwood, but I'll take it!
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:57 AM on September 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

With Agnes Jemima's voice, what I was hearing was how limited her education and experience was. So no, maybe not as naive as you might expect, but still very much the product of a deliberately stunted education. The character is presented as having only learned to read and write in her mid-teens, and even if she's just giving a deposition and not writing her story herself, I think she's still got a long way to go in her ability to reason independently. Gilead's attempt to keep women uneducated and dependent really came over for me from her voice, and I think that might be a deliberate choice on Atwood's part.

Nicole was kept in the dark for her own safety so much that she comes over as being prevented from fully developing as an independent adult. The people guiding and raising Nicole were much better meaning, but they still kind of fucked her up through secrecy.

What made Aunt Lydia so compelling for me is she was raised in the Before. She's an extremely well-educated woman with a previous independent life full of responsibility and the need to make really important decisions, who made her deal with Gilead to survive, and she's spent the entirety of her time in Gilead having to always think a few steps ahead of the people who can just destroy her instantly if they even get a glimpse of how dangerous she really is.

So, probably not Atwood's best, but I really did find it completely worthy. I LOVED the power struggles among the Aunts. And Aunt Lydia feels she had to become the monster she did, and she's clearly not a completely reliable narrator, but god, she's a great character. I'd love to see more of Ann Dowd tackling her.
posted by skybluepink at 6:18 AM on September 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

So did anyone else understand why Nicole's identity needed to be revealed to the Commander or to anyone else? How would this story have been any different had she just been totally undercover in Gilead?
posted by MiraK at 6:23 AM on September 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

I read this all at once -- it was deeply compelling. Is it great? I don't know. Certainly Aunt Lydia is by far the most fascinating character (and I think a very understandable one -- if not a good person). Tying together Offred, Agnes and Daisy/Nicole (I'm shocked she accepted her new name, at 16, so easily) seemed a bit pat and the ending tied all the ends off so neatly, and it was a little "one very small group of people can take down a fascist dictatorship" which, if only it were true, all you YA dystopias. I also wonder how much of this book was suggested to the tv show, and how much the tv show affected it.

The ending with the horrible male prof was -- I understand it, and I liked the touch that it was his female grad student who actually found the important manuscripts and did the real work -- but I didn't really appreciate having him try to Nice Guy his way through the end of the book. But then I think that was a general meh about the ending.

I was horribly disappointed with S2 of the show and didn't watch S3 (I read some reviews); I'm not sure I'm excited to see this book done into tv if made by the same team (though I'm fine with more Ann Dowd).
posted by jeather at 8:41 AM on September 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

I finished it last night. I found it a page turner, a very easy read, with the plot telegraphed in advance throughout. Atwood had her audience in mind here and saw this moving to television. We have two younger heroines, hope for the future, women making change, working to take down the patriarchy. She was seeing broader implications. I also admire the way she has taken her story back, very polyvalent to take threads from her book and the TV series and weave them together. She is guiding the writers and showrunners. We now know what happens to our two central Haidmaid characters and what doesn't happen to them. I'd say the book is satisfying but not at all demanding. I hope it brings her more young readers.
posted by Cuke at 9:37 AM on September 14, 2019

So did anyone else understand why Nicole's identity needed to be revealed to the Commander or to anyone else? How would this story have been any different had she just been totally undercover in Gilead?

I took it that Lydia was keeping her options open until she made her final move. And I guess she also needed the support of his network of Eyes to keep her own machinations going.
posted by roolya_boolya at 2:04 PM on September 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

What strikes me odd about Gilead is that it’s a theocratic dictatorship with no identified dictator or theocrat. There are the commanders as political elite class and mention of a council, but no named figurehead or religious authority prominently running it all.
posted by dr_dank at 9:33 AM on September 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

dr_dank, I suspect that the religious apparatus is there to justify the coup, an excuse and a modest but useful fig leaf for the seizing of power; no theocrat (or his troublesome cult of personality) needed. Under His Eye, not under his eye. The Commanders are not theologically inclined; they've just created an aesthetic and a structure which serve their purpose. I suspect that true believers are rare at the top. But even so--some Commanders are more equal than others. Success and survival depend on a conspiracy of silence; the commanders would all be killed under their own laws absent that pact. Checks and balances by clandestine surveillance and mutual kompromat, giving "Under His Eye" an additional, and different, spin.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:50 PM on September 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

PSA: Right now, an abridged full-cast version of The Testaments is available on BBC--each episode is available for 28 days; the first was release on Sept. 16 and the most recent was released yesterday. I can't post this right now to the Blue because I have already made my post for today, but I figured I'd post it here.

I just finished reading this last night and really enjoyed it. I was kind of apprehensive, both because of my high expectations, and also because of the lukewarm-to-negative reviews I had seen, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's definitely more action-oriented than The Handmaid's Tale, but I disagree that it's more poorly written. I think Atwood took care to differentiate between the voices of the three characters, and she did it well. I was never unsure as to who was narrating each chapter. Of course, Aunt Lydia's voice is the most sophisticated and she has the most facility with language and love of wordplay, but that makes sense given her age and previous education, as compared to Agnes and Daisy, who are much younger and less educated--Agnes even more than Daisy.

It's definitely pretty plot-driven, but I thought the characterization was well done, and I appreciated the fleshing out of Gilead and how it was constructed. Yes, I would have liked to have learned more about Aunt Lydia, but as to her motivations--well,


I would venture a guess that although Gilead tried to extinguish it, and she hid it well, a kernel of Aunt Lydia's true pre-Gilead self always existed deep within her and when she felt it was safe enough, she let it out. I mean she had been a lawyer and a judge! By her description, she was a feminist. Yes, she did horrific things as Aunt Lydia, but as she said, "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I took the one most travelled by. It was littered with corpses, as such roads are. But as you will have noticed, my corpse is not among them." When she felt she had built up enough of a store of proof against the leaders of Gilead, and the right players were in place, she acted.

I doubt I would take the same path she did, but I guess I really can't say, not having been in her shoes.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:13 PM on October 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wasn't at all sure what to expect from this book. What I absolutely did not expect was ... a reasonably decent Young Adult dystopian adventure story. Huh.
posted by kyrademon at 6:52 AM on October 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

I just listened to the BBC version, and from reading these posts, I think they may have abridged it? There's no ending from the symposia.

I still plan on reading the book, but listening left me pretty cold. The mustache-twirling of the bad guys felt really overdone (compared to the systemic casual cruelty of the first book), the idea that Aunt Lydia could be redeemed and also be bad enough to be a hero in Gilead - I just couldn't buy it as anything but a soap opera - not literature. But maybe things were lost in translation.

I also haven't watched past the first season of the TV series, so maybe some of these storylines were necessary to wrap up those loose ends -- but if so, then there should be more of a reason for a non-watcher to find them compelling, or why write a book at all? The Handmaid's Tale was a classic novel for me - this feels like entertainment. But again, the BBC series was meant to be entertainment, so my sense of the work may be skewed.
posted by Mchelly at 5:47 AM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

It was definitely abridged and more of a radio drama/entertainment. That’s a good way to put it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:38 AM on October 16, 2019

It was very readable, but definitely read more like fanfiction based on the Hulu series. I'm guessing that nothing from this book will stick with me, it was just entertaining. Details from the Handmaid's Tale stuck with me even though I read the book 25 years ago. (The butter they use as hand cream).

I'm not sure what I thought this would be, I've been really disappointed with a lot of her recent books. I do really want to reread the Handmaid's Tale
posted by Valancy Rachel at 6:47 PM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Because Baby Nicole seems to be pretty much the same character as on the show, and the implication is strong in book 2 that she was taken to Canada when "stolen" from the Waterfords.

The book never quite confirms that Offred (never called June in the books, although speculated because of the appearance of that name among a list of names of women at the Red Center) is the mother of Agnes Jemima and Nicole. If one is familiar with the TV show that conclusion seems inescapable; but if I were reading the books alone I'm not sure I would have come to that conclusion. The possibility is mentioned in the symposium, but only to say that it can't be ruled out as a possibility.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:38 AM on May 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

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