Never mind I have four other books patiently waiting for me to talk about them… let me be topical and up to date for once.
I pre-ordered this book months ago but had totally forgotten about it… I’m always wary of ‘follow-ups’ and let’s face it how can you improve on the chilling perfection that is ‘A handmaid’s tale’? How many times we’ve been disappointed by a follow up book? by a second album? or by a second helping of cake?
Also there’s a part of me that likes going against the current and not follow the crowd and am very sceptical of hyped books or movies, but… we’re talking Margaret Atwood not some random writer… So… it might just be worth a go…
I want to talk about this book now because the whole world is reading it and don’t want my thoughts to be tainted or my opinion swayed by what others think. I may be wrong in my thinking, I don’t know… but this is where I’m at.
First thought: mmmmhhh not sure. It felt too easy to read, which, as criticism go is pretty lame, I realise… too easy? How ridiculous… and yet the prose was so smooth and flowy… that I stupidly thought to myself, she’s dumbed it down for the masses, this is like a YF novel.
And then I sat on it for a day, and the book, the story, the characters would not leave me alone. The whole thing was constantly at the back of my menopausal mind and then it’s when I realised the genius of the woman. There’s no need for high flying words, there’s no need of bells and whistles… just a prose that’s so perfectly formed it’s deceptively simple, but what she says it’s not.
If you’re waiting for hear about Offred you’ll be disappointed… this is not a part 2 of the Handmaid’s Tale. ‘The testaments’ is much more. The story takes place 15 years (I think) after the end of the previous tale, and it is told (SPOILER ALERT) by three characters with different backgrounds and points of view, three women, of course, whose lives come together in the warped world of Gilead and come together for a common purpose, the destruction of the regime/system. The first is Aunt Lydia, one of the founding mothers, one is a girl grown up in Gilead who never really fit in and the other one is a girl who grew up on the outside but travels into Gilead for reasons that you’ll have to read yourself about!
No loose ends are left, through Aunt Lydia’s secret confession we learn how it all started and developed (terrifying… the whole ‘put a frog in lukewarm water and you can boil it to death before it notices… is chillingly real and frighteningly possible), about the human mind and what it can do for survival…she’s a complex, well developed character who holds the story in her hand and I wished we’d heard more from her. Agnes’ story is interesting because we get to know more about day to day life is in Gilead (not from the point of view of aHandmaid like in the previous novel, but a ‘normal’ girl’s side of the story), but the third ‘Jade/Nicole’ represent the outside world but in my opinion is by far the weakest of the characters and of the book.
The reason the book has stayed in my head is twofold. First it’s still a warning of how easy to is to slip into a situation that is seemingly impossible and yet totally possible. How easy it is to live one’s life ignoring what’s going on around you till it’s too late. How easy it is to give up personal freedom and ideals in exchange of personal safety, how it is everybody’s responsibility to take action before it’s too late. Secondly I felt there was an underlying sense of optimism and hope, yes, hope, that wasn’t there in the Handmaid’s tale. I felt that Attwood, in the end has enough faith in the human spirit, in people – in women, but also in men – that one day we’ll wake up and realise that we need to act and stop being spectators. Perhaps the book is a call to action. Where the book fails for me is at the end… and without giving too much away… I felt it turned into a hunger games/maze runner type adventure. Perhaps I read too much YF in the past… perhaps not.
So yes, read it. She is an amazing writer. This books IS lighter, has less gravitas than the Handmaid’s Tale, and in my opinion it’s not as good BUT it is worth reading. Read it slowly. Take in the details. The devil really is in the details here.
And then let me know what you think.
Do I believe it’s worth the Booker Price? Hard to say without having read any of the other ones as comparison, and it will be interesting to see if the hype will help or it’ll hinder. If I have to put money on it I’d say no, it shouldn’t win, even if I think Attwood is one of the best living writers out there.