The Testaments a timely sequel to The Handmaid's Tale

The Testaments
By Margaret Atwood
Chatto & Windus, London

Margaret Atwood's 2019 Booker Prize-winning novel The Testaments is her response to the question of readers of The Handmaid's Tale: how did Gilead fall? She's had 35 years to come up with the answer, and she doesn't disappoint.

Atwood uses a similar narrative technique to the one in Handmaid's, also set as historical documents served up at a history symposium. The difference is that, this time, they encompass three perspectives: Aunt Lydia, from the generation that lived through the triumph of Gilead, and two girls of the next generation, one brought up in a Gilead household, to become a Gilead wife; the other, from across the border in free Canada.

Although a fan of the first season of the companion TV series, I found the violence and hopelessness in the second season too much to keep watching. The Testaments doesn't dwell on the same ground covered in Handmaid's, although it alludes to it. In my opinion this makes it an easier read, and allowed it to explore other perspectives on compliance and resistance to arbitrary power.

To avoid spoilers, I'll just say Atwood does a great job at not only answering that question, and others raised by The Handmaid's Tale. In her acknowledgements, she thanks World War II resisters she has known —- and their influence is apparent in the text. Atwood also refers to the axiom that guided the writing of both books: that no event should appear that hasn't actually happened in human history.

In this sense, although The Testaments is a work of fiction, it is also a work of history, and a manual for resisting fascism, revealed in its virulently misogynistic theocratic form — in fictional Gilead, and in a growing number of countries around the world today.