Margaret Atwood, Fiction, The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood, Fiction

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood review – a dazzling follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood review – a dazzling follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale

9/10/2019 11:26:00 AM

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood review – a dazzling follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood is at her best in this Booker-shortlisted return, three decades on, to the patriarchal dystopia of Gilead

MThe Handmaid’s Tale. She played an Aunt in a scene where a woman is ritually shamed by a group of handmaids for “getting herself” gang raped at the age of 14. “Her fault, she led them on,” is the chant they use. Atwood says she found the scene “horribly upsetting”, although it was possibly not so wrenching to write as it was to enact or, later, for us to watch.

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In the original book, a few deft sentences lead the reader, not into the magnetising shaming of another human being, but to the narrator Offred’s insight into her own complicity. “I used to think well of myself,” she says. “I didn’t then.” The scene is moral, not sensational; it works through the brain, not through the eyes. This is one reason Atwood’s work feels so ageless and necessary. She

thinks.Atwood certainly has had an enormous amount to think about since her novel went supernova, not just as the hugely successful television adaptation, but as a powerful symbol of resistance to the misogyny ofand the Christian rightwing. The series became a kind of visual enlargement of the agonies of the age, or the female agonies at least. It was sometimes hard to look, or to look away.

InThe Testaments, Atwood reclaims the right to consider such difficulties rather than simply imagine them. She is interested not in how people become degraded, as objects (that is so easily done), but how they became morally compromised.The novel picks up 15 or 16 years after Offred disappears to an unknown fate at the end of

The Handmaid’s Tale. There are three narrators, two of them young and idealistic, one of them old and endlessly cunning. The most compelling portrait is that of wickedness – of course it is. The story is driven and described by the infamous Aunt Lydia, and she is just as terrifying, in her astringency, as you would expect her to be.

In Lydia’s world view, people rise and fall by strength or weakness, and justice is a kind of theatre. “Innocent men denying their guilt sound exactly like guilty men, as I am sure you have noticed, my reader.” She appeals to the heartless survivor in all of us – at least this is what she seems to say, that when the chips are down, we will revert to our most primitive state. A crowd of imprisoned women is described as “crocodiles”, ready to “leap, thrash about and snap”. Their first sighting of a mass execution does not dull their appetite for food, in fact it does the opposite: afterwards, Lydia is given an egg sandwich and, “I am ashamed to say, I gobbled it up with relish”.

To read this book is to feel the world turn­ing, as the unfore­seeable shifts of recent years reveal the same themesHer induction into the order of Aunts is described with a chilling vigour. Tortured, imprisoned and tested, she is given a choice, and she chooses “the path most travelled by”, one of compromise, betrayal and lies. The first book was good on the envy between women, when they have no power;

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The Testamentslooks at collaboration – another vice of the oppressed. Lydia, however, collaborates as an equal, not as a victim; she is not in thrall. Indeed, she is happy to destroy women who have internalised the values of the patriarchal regime: one girl, Shunammite, is coldly sacrificed to her own silliness, a move that Lydia seems to enjoy.

Read more: The Guardian »

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Exclusive: Aunt Lydia takes centre-stage in The Testaments – and Ann Dowd couldn’t be happierAunt Lydia of TheTestaments is very different to Aunt Lydia of TheHandmaidsTale – we spoke to Ann Dowd, who narrates the audiobook, and had a LOT to say about it. PenguinUKBooks MargaretAtwood

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