The Testaments extends an invitation to its reader to venture back to the dystopian society of Gilead, a post-American totalitarian theocratic regime. Its prequel, The Handmaid’s Tale, takes place while the dust is settling upon the newly instated and oppressive rule of law. The Testaments reevaluates the state of the mess fifteen years later, calling on the perspectives of three women with entirely unique associations with the country. The disreputable Aunt Lydia, Gilead-born Agnes, and Daisy, a Canadian girl with only an academic view of her country’s southern neighbor.
As we know from the Epilogue of The Handmaid’s Tale, Gilead does eventually fall, though the reader is granted limited cognizance into how this came to be. The Testaments reveals Gilead to be rotting from within itself.
Atwood parlays the integrity of her initial bestseller admirably. She dryly illustrates the hypocrisies and unoriginal pitfalls present in any society, particularly a society which asseverates itself as pure.
The novel is remarkably successful in merging its three narrator’s accounts of life together almost seamlessly while keeping the reader on track. Atwood understands these women. She comprehends the intricacies of three very different lives, and what must be done to propel them forward in meaningful ways. Aunt Lydia being her most well fortified creations.
Where this novel finds its deficit is in its pacing. The exposition is excellent. Each character, leading and supporting, is given a rich and thorough history. We are entrusted with the series of events that Aunt Lydia was subject to at the genesis of Gilead, and every day since. We are shown starkly contrasting existences lived by Agnes and Daisy. However, the rising action leads to a swift call to conflict approximately three-fourths of the way through the novel, and we are subsequently hastened through that action, facing few roadblocks, until the novel draws to a close.
The Testaments is a gripping novel, one that sparks a fire of hope into a discouraged soul looking for reason amidst chaos. Most importantly, it reiterates that things are almost never as they outwardly appear.