The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood.
It has been thirty five years since Margaret Atwood’s brilliant Dystopian novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ was published, a tiresomely lengthy time for her myriad fans to wait for answers to What Happened Next to the Handmaid Offred and her precious children: now, our curiosity has been satisfied by Ms Atwood at her most sublime: ‘The Testaments’ has it all - a gripping plot, magnificent characters, and a heroine who was forced into villainy but redeems herself utterly: Vengeance, Thy Name is ….. nope, no spoilers in THIS blog!
This book was worth waiting 35 years for, especially after the wonderful TV series. It centres on Offred’s daughters – Agnes Jemima, who started life in freedom as Hannah before a calamitous Civil War transformed the United States into Gilead, and Baby Nicole, Offred’s child of bondage in the new totalitarian society, planned to be given to ‘pretend’ parents, Fred and Serena Waterford to raise.
Agnes remains in unhappy thrall to her Gilead parents; her loving first ‘mother’ Tabitha has died and her ‘father’ Commander Kyle wastes no time in taking another wife, who wants Agnes out of the house, and the best way to achieve that is – marriage. Marriage to the elderly but immensely powerful Commander Judd, who enjoys a worrying propensity for very young wives, all of whom eventually become sickly and die.
Agnes’s fate appears to be sealed, until in desperation she applies to Aunt Lydia, one of the Founders, to be an Aunt, a so-called guardian of the various classes of women in Giladean society. It is not an ideal fate; she will never have children, the sacred destiny of all Gilead women, but at least she will still be alive.
By contrast, her unknown little sister Baby Nicole has been abducted from her pious family and spirited off to Canada, where she becomes Daisy and grows up with foster parents, unaware of her origins and in an atmosphere of freedom unimaginable to any Gilead inhabitant – until her foster parents are cruelly murdered by those over the border who have never stopped looking for Baby Nicole. It’s time for Daisy to grow up, and return to Gilead – not as Baby Nicole but as Jade, a homeless street kid who wants God in her life: she has had a crash course as a spy and is expected to bring back vital information from an important inside source to American revolutionary groups in Canada – if she can pull it off.
Ms Atwood pulls it off in spades. This is an astonishing, masterly sequel to her most famous and beloved novel, and is a fitting testament to today’s 21st century ‘democracy’. SIX STARS.