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!