Book Reviews

Book Review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood


Margaret Atwood can do no wrong in my eyes. Perhaps it is a mistake to be so uncritical, but to me the scale of her contribution to literature, her years of experience and her dedication to producing intelligent, thought-provoking and culturally necessary stories means I’m not going to write a bad word about her here. 


Margaret Atwood’s dystopian masterpiece, The Handmaid’s Tale, is a modern classic. Now she brings the iconic story to a dramatic conclusion in this riveting sequel.

More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.

Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.

As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

‘Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.’ Margaret Atwood


Margaret Atwood is a shining beacon in the writing world and I read her latest offering, The Testaments, with gratitude and gusto, and I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve read some reviews where people complain they were disappointed, and found the story unremarkable, but I disagree entirely. Don’t get me wrong I’m not shy about criticising books, but there is a point where a writer and their work has proven their competence, their storytelling and their skill in producing real and interesting characters, and by that point quibbling the small stuff wastes time. Better to drink up the words, get lost in the dialogue, the flourishes, the many moments of stunning prose, and fill in those wonderful absences with your own thoughts and opinions.

I was delighted to be gifted a little more of the Gilead story, and I especially liked that it followed on from the development to the story in the TV series that I have watched avidly. Although, as much as I loved the TV series, reading Atwood’s words once again took the focus entirely back to the power of female (and human) resilience and the reality of this within a dystopian patriarchy. It loses the glamour and slight superficiality that can come with the territory of screen, and takes us back to the core of these characters and what drives them. It explores what the female (human) spirit must do to survive in oppressive environments, and the reality of the impact of extremist cultures on the human mind and belief systems. Coercion and control can shape minds, but these minds though battered into submission can hold onto truth and fairness,  and with cunning and time can win out.

I especially enjoyed the device Atwood uses of writing the story as first person testimonies. Particularly in the way one character speaks out directly to us – the readers – as we are placed into the future of that world, reading about the past. We live in an age of testimony where the lines of fiction and truth become ever more blurred and Atwood plays with this to satisfying ends.

I was thrilled to see the conclusion of the story of Gilead – to be catapulted far into the future and see its resolution – and discover the destinies of characters that I met right back during my uni years along with some that were introduced more recently in the TV series. It ticked all my boxes and I highly recommend this book – this snapshot of an alternative, and highly possible, fictional reality – with the truth of humanity running through its core.

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