Authored by Margaret Atwood, this was the 2019 Booker Prize winner and long awaited follow up to The Handmaids Tale.
The Testaments picks up about 15 years after Offred disappears to an unknown fate at the end of The Handmaids Tale novel. This storyline centres around a mole in Gilead. We learn through the book, that Aunt Lydia has involved herself with the underground MayDay resistance of Gilead. Is Lydia the mole? Evidence points that way as Lydia, over the years, has become unsettled and disillusioned with the hypocrisy she sees. The philosophies and corruption of those in Gilead bothers her.
Looking back in The Handmaids Tale, Aunt Lydia was almost a comical character, fuelled by loneliness and shame in her life, that only served to increase her agitation and anger. In the beginning of the Gilead inception, Lydia did what was needed in order to survive. She was a regime collaborator. By being cold blooded and ruthless, she managed to rise within the internal leadership. She earnt trust of those above her, although it was tested from time to time. In The Testaments, the complexity of Aunt Lydia comes to the forefront, allowing us to see a side that has not previously been visible
The Republic of Gilead and it’s patrichal theocracy, remain standing. Three women tell this story of The Testaments. Teenager Agnes, a commanders daughter is one. Daisy, a young woman from Canada is the second. The third, Aunt Lydia. Their ‘testaments’ are complex and tangled together, as they realise how they can work together, and ultimately how the two young women are related.
The most riveting of all the voices we hear from is Aunt Lydia’s. Her writings, which are secret, treat the reader to the earlier fall of the USA as well as the methods used to convert women to the ‘Sons of Jacob’ beliefs. Lydia also ensures that we get an inside knowledge of ‘inner Gilead’ as well as the leaderships.
While Agnes and Daisy give testimonies that have some interest, they certainly do not have the gravitas of Lydia. There is just something about Aunt Lydia’s words that elevates her above others. For that of course, we thank our author Margaret Atwood. The Testaments does revisit the abuse that Gilead seemed fond of giving out to the women. The emotional abuse. The physical and sexual abuse. If you have never read The Handmaids Tale, or watched all series of it (Thank you to the divine and gifted Elisabeth Moss), take a deep breath before you dive into the book.
But what did I think of the book?
There is a lot of speculation that it was unneeded and some have said unwarranted, after the success of The Handmaids Tale. I liked the book. It certainly did not hit me with the same clarity that The Handmaids Tale offered. However it did keep my interest. Learning about another character always does. Lydia was not everyone’s favourite in The Handmaids Tale, but she did have a kind of ‘love’ for her girls. Learning who she is, what makes her tick, made for a good book.