(In the 15 years since The Handmaid’s Tale’s events, she’s become a revered figure in Gilead, her picture hung in classrooms and a statue erected in her image.) Who, after all, is Donald Trump if not Commander Waterford without the charm? The Testaments is all over the place: bus, boat, van, woods, river, sea, school, dentist, diner, hotel, condo, charity shop, refugee centre. How long has Atwood had this book in her? The Handmaid’s Tale unfolded in a memorably deadpan and very immediate present tense – we didn’t know what was coming next any more than June did. The third, Daisy, is a feisty teenager living in Canada with two people who run a thrift store and whom she supposes to be her parents, except that something has always felt wrong: “It was like I was a prize cat they were cat-sitting.”. Atwood does chart Gilead’s rise again, though, albeit from a fresh perspective. If ever a novelist could justify the spawning of a sequel, Atwood can. Entertainment Weekly may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.

Argentinian activists in favour of the legalisation of abortion disguised as characters from The Handmaid’s Tale. The Wives, Handmaids and domestic Marthas of Gilead are helpmeets, vessels and servants. There is no doubt that Atwood is on top form here. Think of yourself as a wanderer in a dark wood. In two important respects, however, this is a weaker and less satisfying book. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is published by Penguin/ Random House, £20. Interiors, furniture, food, clothes, linen were described with all of the deft shadow and gleam of a Dutch painting – and the same, incidentally, is true in this book – but beyond that, we only had the vaguest hints of how the larger world worked.

It’s why The Handmaid’s Tale, utterly nightmarish in its depiction of a dictatorship’s origins, became a No. The answer to the first question is: both. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99, Margaret Atwood: ‘She’s ahead of everyone in the room’. The Handmaid’s Tale (singular) was one woman’s telling.

Where Atwood’s interests do undeniably lie is in shaking us up, challenging our complacencies and using her chillingly profound imagination to challenge us to think and rethink, to see our volatile and increasingly toxic world anew. (Believe me, no mother on Earth would pass up on that photo.). He started it, you know, not Eve. Logistics and seeming universe-overlapping aside: There may be no novelist better suited to tapping the current era’s anxieties than Margaret Atwood.

In The Testaments, what you see is what you get, with any possibility of equivocation, shading or real complexity (or the chance for readers to imagine anything for themselves) sacrificed again and again to pace and plot. That’ll get the fan-girl forums going. The contrasts The Testaments draws within Gilead are exceedingly blunt. Offred, strikingly ordinary in Handmaid’s, exists now as an unnamed myth; Lydia, a respected judge in her pre-Gilead life, serves as an instrument for evil. Her name is not mentioned and she doesn’t figure into the plot, but Offred looms over The Testaments like a legend.

Those of us lucky enough to read The Handmaid’s Tale back when it first appeared in 1985 will remember the shock of a novel that felt both claustrophobically precise and shatteringly prescient.

This – together with the constant “seepage” of handmaids being helped to freedom by the so-called Underground Femaleroad – has not been good for Gilead, which has settled into an inevitable “dog-eat-dog maturity”. They have no right to work, earn, talk back, walk alone.

Agnes and Nicole are virgins and so the tension of sex, whether endured or longed for, is gone. The plot is propulsive and I finished in six hours flat. What is surprising, though, given that so many of Atwood’s actual details remain so gloriously dark (a paedophile dentist whose hand sits on a pubescent child’s breast “like a large hot crab” is an image that won’t leave me in a hurry), is that the story’s outcomes are anything but. Where, at the end of the first, June was bundled into the back of a van with no idea whether it heralded her “end” or her “beginning”, in this second novel we have a quasi-Shakespearean sense of all’s well that ends well. If, for instance, you ever wondered why Aunt Lydia seems so willing to join the regime’s monstrous attack on her own gender (despite a queasily hinted at softer side), here’s her backstory. In The Testaments, as Lydia edges away from the “dark” she’d initially embraced, the pair implicity meet at a midpoint of radicalization. Atwood details her simmering rage as her wicked stepmother mentally tortures her, planning to marry her off to a vile older Commander when she’s just 13; she begins viewing Gilead’s practices with conflicted horror.

The first belongs to Aunt Lydia herself, who is secretly writing her memoirs, apparently largely “for your edification, my unknown reader”. No firm answer. 10 funny mockumentaries to remind us about the absurdity of life, Family-friendly Halloween films for boos big and small.

1 best-seller 30 years after its publication. This novel opens 15 years after the end of the last book.

But here Atwood returns with a sequel decades in the making, arriving at a time in which The Handmaid’s Tale has reclaimed its cultural immediacy. While the events of Hulu’s adaptation and The Testaments may never align — for starters, the latter is set over a decade beyond where the show is — the claim seems, at the very least, misleading. The book is alternately narrated by a newly traitorous Aunt Lydia, in a series of diary entries dubbed “The Ardua Hall Holograph,” and June’s two daughters, introduced here as Agnes and Daisy, in chapters ambiguously dubbed “witness transcripts.” Unbeknownst to the girl herself, Daisy is really Nicole, living with her “parents” in Canada; Agnes, who’d gone unnamed in the original novel, is in Gilead. But if The Handmaid’s Tale was Atwood’s mistresspiece, The Testaments is a misstep. Finally, in an epilogue placed in conversation with The Handmaid’s Tale’s dispiriting final pages, Atwood pays stirring — and corrective — tribute to Offred’s spirit, finding a subtle but breathtaking grace note: History may favor the powerful, but it cannot ignore the resilient. Entertainment Weekly is a registered trademark of Meredith Corporation All Rights Reserved. I thought I’d been clever to work out who these girls are. In other words, is the novel sufficiently elastic – and slippery and enigmatic – to grow with you? The first is voice, the second is place. It doesn’t take much – filth, hunger, fear – to make her an unwilling willing servant of the regime. Which actually feels a touch disappointing. Conversely, you can sense Atwood’s elation and comfort in writing for Lydia, bringing her centerstage after her one-note villainy in Offred’s telling. The Testaments review: Margaret Atwood’s overly neat Handmaid’s Tale sequel is surprisingly fun The windows of Waterstones book shops acidly green. Perhaps that’s why Atwood skirts around questions of her old heroine’s fate with the glee of a writer who knows she has her reader in the palm of her hand. The book comes in a jiffy bag stamped: “All things come to she who waits.” On the front cover: a handmaid in her distinctive cloak and bonnet. She aches to be touched, she swings her hips to tempt a young guard, she feels the thrill of “enticement” wearing a sequinned bodysuit, she risks her life to make love to a forbidden man. The main story line in “The Testaments” is a kind of spy thriller about a mole inside Gilead, who is working with the Mayday resistance to help bring down the evil empire. They have no right to read and no right to pleasure. Did she survive? We look from under Offred’s headdress, we stare at her bedroom ceiling.

“I’ve become swollen with power, true, but also nebulous with it — formless, shape-shifting,” she writes. The pacing is flawless. But still it feels as if something crucial is missing. Surely one of the reasons Gilead managed to be so spookily convincing was that Atwood cunningly chose to leave so many of its edges blurry. The prose is lean, mean, and charged. Atwood’s angry, pacy sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale admits a ray of light into Gilead’s toxic world, Last modified on Mon 16 Sep 2019 18.06 EDT. Agnes, at least, has the Gilead factor to explain why. A little flicker between the pages, like the tail of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. As for space, The Handmaid’s Tale was a chamber piece. Still, no one could have guessed the extent to which recent history (as well as a superb TV offshoot) would bring it eerily, terrifyingly back into focus. But Nicole is elusive.

With surgical clarity, Atwood documents how the stripping of fundamental freedoms, the weight of systemic oppression, pushes individuals to extremes.

And I can’t be the only one who, watching the Trump crowd’s chants of “Lock her up!” or “Send her back!”, found herself thinking of taser-wielding Aunt Lydia and the handmaids’ cries of “Her fault!” when one of their number “confesses” to having been gang-raped? Too obvious, too early. We believed, simple as that.

When it arrives, a courier appears on the stairs. But is she willing to leave room for her reader? Embargo.

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