Writing a sequel to a book that’s been loved by so many readers for more than three decades is definitely a risk to take, but Margaret Atwood took the chance nevertheless. With The Testaments she published the highly-anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale just last year. As someone who’s loved the first book, my expectations were naturally high. And though I wouldn’t say that the sequel dashed my expectations, I’ve to admit that it left me with slightly mixed feelings.

One of the things I liked the most about The Handmaid’s Tale is its narrative structure. Atwood sort of throws us into her world without any explanations, and bit by bit we’re given small puzzle pieces that we’ve to connect in order to get the full picture. I was glued to the pages because I not only wanted to know how the story ends, but also how it even began. Yet although the puzzle gets bigger and bigger as the story develops, by the end it’s hardly finished. A lot of pieces are simply missing, like what happened to Offred’s first daughter and Luke? How will Offred’s own story continue? Why and when did Gilead fall? The novel’s finishing line “Are there any questions?” couldn’t be more apt.

The Testaments fills in the gaps that The Handmaid’s Tale has left unresolved. It gives us more pieces to complete the full puzzle. We learn how Offred’s story continued, what happened to her first daughter, how Gilead was founded and how it fell. Through the three female protagonists Aunt Lydia, Agnes and Daisy, we get to see Gilead through different perspectives and learn a great deal more about its inner workings.

“As they say, history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

The Testaments

As much as I love the idea and enjoyed reading the sequel though, I’m doubting whether it was really needed. I think what makes the Handmaid’s Tale so intriguing is the ambiguity with which it leaves us. Yes we’re not given a full picture in the end, but does it even matter? Isn’t the whole point of the ending that we enter into a discussion about the story and fill in the gaps ourselves? Unfortunately, The Testaments erases a large part of the ambiguity. Even more, the story ends with a somewhat happy ending that I think doesn’t really fit into the rest of the narrative. While I like the idea to end the story on a hopeful note, I also think that there could’ve been less straight-forward ways to do that. I felt like in the end there’s very little room left for speculations and discussions.

Nevertheless there is no denying that this book is an absolute page-turner and deserves all the attention it has received. Just as it’s predecessor, it explores themes that continue to be relevant today, from gender inequality over government’s abuse of power to environmental degradation. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to read it and let me know what you think!

Have you read The Testaments? How did you like it? Let me know in the comment section below!


15 thoughts on “Completing the Puzzle: Atwood’s The Testaments

  1. I really enjoyed The Testaments too! I was the same initially – when I read The Handmaid’s Tale years ago, I never felt like it needed a sequel. I never even considered the possibility of a sequel and although there were obviously questions left unanswered at the end, I just accepted it. I worried The Testaments wouldn’t quite live up to the big name that The Handmaid’s Tale set, so I was relieved when I was a big fan of it too. Great review!

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  2. I felt the same about The Testaments! It covers a lot of important topics, but in terms of its relation to The Handmaid’s Tale, I almost treat it like its its own standalone book. I liked it overall but I like it even more when I look at it in this way.

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  3. I loved The Testaments! As a huge fan of The Handmaid’s Tale I was a bit nervous before I read it in case I didn’t enjoy it but I needn’t have worried. I do agree with you though that The Handmaid’s Tale didn’t really need a sequel but I did enjoy it all the same 😊

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  4. I love your perspective on how The Testaments removes some of that ambiguity! As a writer, one of my favorite things to write is an ambiguous ending because it gives the reader the opportunity to engage with the text and kind of choose their own ending; like you said, they get to fill in the gaps. I’ve been debating about whether or not I want to pick up The Testaments because I love love love The Handmaid’s Tale, and it’s sounding more and more like a good idea to just let it be :/

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    1. Thanks for your comment! It’s so interesting to hear your thoughts as a writer. I’d say if you want to know how the story continues, do read it. Even if I felt that it gave a little too much away, I overall really much enjoyed reading it. If you decide to give it a try, feel free to share your thoughts or link your review here! 🙂

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  5. I loved the book so much—as all writing samples of Atwood. I especially liked how Atwood changes her narrative in each perspective. It wasn’t like I was reading one author, but merely three individuals.

    I agree with you about the issue of ambiguity. But, I had a feeling that Atwood kind of bestowed her work to us as one of the latest-unfortunately-, and kept it clearer and lighter. As if she was saying “okay, I’ve filled you with extremely disturbing, sad, but real stories so far. I’ve taught you life isn’t a fairytale. But, here, at last, is a more optimistic ending for you to take it easy” although the degree of optimism is questionable in Gilead.

    This is a great piece, Linda. I love how you write. Thank you for sharing it with us. Lots of love!

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    1. I totally agree! I loved the narrative style even if it was quite unlike The Handmaid’s Tale.
      I always tend to read her works as warnings for a warning always implies that choice, and thus hope, are yet possible. When I finished the first book, I was convinced that Offred must’ve moved towards the light because otherwise the message of the book would be utterly hopeless. It’d be like saying “there’s no hope anyway so don’t even bother to act”. As you said I guess Atwood wanted to bring this home in the sequel. I still think there would’ve been less direct ways to do that.
      Thanks for your comment!


  6. The Testaments has been on my TBR and I am waiting to get to it. I loved reading The Handmaid’s Tale and it’s narrative style as well, the way Atwood makes the reader live inside Offred’s head. I know that a lot of readers were put off by the ambiguity but I for one was quite content with it, you know? The book wasn’t about the story, it was more about the dystopian concept and the whole experience of living under those horrible conditions. Still, I was intrigued that there is a sequel and would get to it someday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I also liked the ambiguity of the first book which is why the sequel didn’t quite live up to my expectations. But it does give you new perspectives on Gilead through the three female protagonists, which I thought a great idea. I’m quite glad Atwood didn’t choose to continue the story from Offred’s perspective as it would’ve probably been impossible to re-create that voice after so many years. Do let me know how you liked the sequel, I love to hear other people’s thoughts on it! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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