Back in Gilead, with a collection of narratives from non-Handmaids – after The Handmaid’s Tale’s second lease of life I guess we know their predicament well enough now. This sequel gives us the Aunts, the young girls about to become Wives, and the underground Mayday organisation that rescues Gilead escapees. The Aunts neatly exemplify the unsavoury phenomenon of women who enjoy personal power and privilege in male-dominated spheres, while enforcing the patriarchal status quo and keeping other women down – thanks for nothing, ladies. For those who prefer a little less conversation and a little more action, the soon-to-be-Wives and the Mayday plots add major narrative pace and tension. I found the Gilead prohibition on reading and writing a fascinating angle – what happens when communication is purely visual and word of mouth? Atwood isn’t the first author to have explored this; the difference is her subtlety and skill.
The testaments only increased my already huge admiration for Margaret Atwood. Her ability to write big thinky books with gripping narratives and complex plots, in such horribly plausible dystopian settings, while keeping a strong sense of humanity and individuality in her characters, and never lapsing into polemic, is still second to none. If this winning the Booker Prize in 2019 was seen by some as a lifetime achievement award, I say she’s earned it.