Margaret Atwood’s Booker-shortlisted sequel to the knockout classic The Handmaid’s Tale is, quite simply, sensational. The Testaments features some of the most carefully crafted, well-groomed pages I’ve read in years; prose so smooth you could swallow it whole, accentuating a bold, ambitious, dynamic story that builds on the events of its predecessor (and the television series) without being hamstrung by it.
Set fifteen years after the final scene of The Handmaid’s Tale, this sequel is narrated by three characters, their perspectives presented as found historical documents: Agnes, a young woman living in Gilead, who rejects her arranged marriage, but still has faith; Aunt Lydia, who readers and viewers will be familiar with, responsible for turning women into Handmaids; and sixteen-year-old Daisy, whose life is completely upended when she learns the truth of her past. Their intertwined stories are full of danger, suspense, and heart, and build to a grand crescendo and a pitch-perfect postscript.
The obvious question is whether The Testaments holds a candle to The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s a bit of an unfair comparison; they’re such different, equally compelling novels. The Handmaid’s Tale is more a novel to marinate over, I think; to turn the pages slowly, savour each word, every detail of life in Gilead. The Testaments reads more like a thriller; tightly-plotted, pacier, while still providing glimpses into this theocratic dictatorship where women are subjugated and indoctrinated. The narrative hums and roars along like a high-performance vehicle. Atwood is a natural storyteller, perhaps the finest of her generation, and The Testaments is a genuine masterpiece.