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The Testaments

The Sequel to The Handmaid's Tale
Series: The Handmaid's Tale, Book 2
Length: 13 hrs and 18 mins
Categories: Fiction, Contemporary
5 out of 5 stars (9,323 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Number One New York Times Best Seller

Winner of the Booker Prize

Margaret Atwood's dystopian masterpiece, The Handmaid's Tale, has become a modern classic - and now she brings the iconic story to a dramatic conclusion in this riveting sequel. 

More than 15 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. 

"The literary event of the year." (The Guardian)

©2019 Margaret Atwood (P)2019 Random House Audio

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It does what a sequel should do.

**No spoilers**

Atwood did so many things right with this book. It builds upon the world she created over 30 years ago, staying true to the form and style of the original, but with effective changes as well (e.g. the triple narrator). My favorite part was the fleshing out of a secondary character from "The Handmaid's Tale", as that character moved into one of the narrator roles and gained both complexity and humanity.

I am not experienced with literary analysis, but a few layman's observations that I would consider minor detractions are a slightly too streamlined/convenient plot to get one of the narrators advancing toward where she needed to be, as well as the pacing of the the final quarter of the book. I certainly understand things picking up as everything comes together, but it did seem both a little sudden and a little too quick.

Is "The Testaments" as powerful and groundbreaking as "The Handmaid's Tale"? No, but I don't think any of us expected it to be. We have already been shocked by the Puritan-esque, post-revolutionary Iran-inspired world of the Republic of Gilead, but what Atwood does with "The Testaments" is give us vibrant, deep, rich characters who are inspiring and flawed and add another layer to the fictional land we know so well, while at the same time updating the implicit warning of "The Handmaid's Tale" for the modern world.

The audio production is fantastic. I listen at 3.5x, and everything sounded great. I did check the audio at normal speed, and some of you may find it a tad on the slow side, but that is easily remedied with the app. In this case, I found the multiple narrators very effective, as it really made the older character POP. The two younger character voices blended a bit in my mind, but they were both well done. As for Derek Jacobi... well, he's Derek Freakin' Jacobi!

87 of 97 people found this review helpful

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Well...

It was good... I wanted to like it more because I loved the first book and the show. With that being said I couldn’t put it down and wanted to see what happened to the characters. Ann was great, but the narrators of Daisy and Agnes sound exactly the same. I don’t know how to put this without giving anything away so I’ll just say that some of the plot was just a little silly. Over all though if you liked the first book and the show, it’s definitely worth the listen and it’s entertaining.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Oh Ann, how I love thee!

First, let me say - I am a big Ann Dowd fan. She is a badass actress. I was so happy to hear her voice portraying Aunt Lydia. She is well spoken and terrifying! She is amazing at this. At any rate, I never gave much thought to how “Aunt Lydia” came to be- I had assumed she was just part of the true believers in Gilead. It brought forth a new light of the capture of her person, who she was, the vengeance she held. Mayday is alive and kicking - I finished the book with tears and a feeling hope for all. Great sequel!

18 of 21 people found this review helpful

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⛪️🙏Praise Be🙏💒🕯📿🧺🗝⌛️

This looooooong-awaited sequel didn’t completely live up to my lofty expectations, but I nonetheless found it to be a fascinating page-turner, especially toward the end.

Downsides:

1.) Offred, the single narrator of The Handmaid’s Tale, is not one of the three narrators of The Testaments. I was halfway or more through the book when I realized that none of the three women speaking could possibly be her, and it was a disappointment.
2.) I see why one reviewer notes that the book almost seems designed for a YA audience. It’s far more juvenile in tone than its predecessor, namely because Agnes/Victoria and Daisy/Jade/Nicole (2/3 of the narrators) are kids, whereas Offred was a grown woman. But it’s also just plain simple, obvious and naive in style compared to THT. This is not gorgeous prose like its predecessor. While THT has been assigned reading in college English courses for 35 years, Testaments will NEVER be held up as serious literature. By the end, it almost reads like a spy novelette or adventure comic.
3.) Some readers will be confused, if not by the multiple narrators, then certainly by the timeline, which jumps around quite a bit. At one point in the story, when I was certain that I understood where we were in time and that only a few days or weeks had gone by since one character’s rescue from a bad situation, it was suddenly made clear that eight years had elapsed.
4.) Towards the end of the climax, a sentimental and almost supernatural element is introduced.
5.) Although I didn’t really mind the way Handmaid’s Tale ended with an academic lecture taking place hundreds of years in the future, I know that many readers did, and those readers are going to be doubly annoyed to discover that this book ends the same way.

Upsides:

1.) Ann Dowd’s reading of Aunt Lydia’s segments MAKES this book, the way Robert DeNiro’s flashback scenes as young Vito Corleone make Godfather II a great movie.
2.) If you loved Handmaid’s Tale and need to know what happened to Offred and how Gilead finally fell, you’re going to have your questions answered by this book.

Overall: A-
Bechdel test: Pass

26 of 31 people found this review helpful

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Atwood KILLED IT

Beautifully, and thoughtfully written sequel which answered so many questions for us Handmaids Tale lovers.
So curious to see if the show takes the same direction in future seasons. I hope so. Her Aunt Lydia backstory is better than what the show writers came up with. But she did take some things from the show which I liked. We’re in a weird age where a book written 35 or so years ago can suddenly become MORE famous that it was when it was written. I’m grateful to Hulu for the show- without which I may never have discovered Atwood and had the opportunity to read her books.
I only hope Atwood gives us another book for this series. Let’s make it a trilogy. Pre-quel perhaps? With some Nick and Serena backstory?

41 of 50 people found this review helpful

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Disappointing

I thought the first part of the book was exceptional. It's like Atwood spent 35 years on it. Well-written with such detail and level of character development, helping the reader fully understand how the Lydia character became who she was, although how Gilead's people all fell into line with everything it became will apparently always remain a literary mystery. Then if felt as if she wrote the last half in 35 days, just to wrap it up. All too neat, too silly, the coincidences and circumstances too ridiculous. I was highly disappointed. Not at all the book for which I've waited years. However, engaging Ann Dowd to read the Aunt Lydia part was an outstanding decision.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Extension and departure from the TV show

4-4.5 stars

This is excellent as an audiobook (much like The Handmaids Tale) and I devoured it.

It has an odd relationship to the TV show. On the one hand, if you haven’t watched the show there will be some confusion early on as you won’t know who Baby Nicole is / what that is about. On the other there are some clear departures from the show. For example you learn Aunt Lydia was once a family court judge (this makes more sense to me than her background on the show)

The book switches between three narratives: Aunt Lydia, a girl who grew up in Gilead, and a girl who grew up in Canada.

The book takes places some years after the first book storyline though because of the twist at the end.

Aunt Lydia is writing her memoirs secretly. You learn about her background, more of what happened when America fell, how she became such a prominent figure in Gilead (she becomes even more famous) and her motivations.

You also hear interviews from a girl in Gilead. It reminded me of a memoir I read by a woman who was raised as a polygamist Mormon.

There’s also the “live” storyline of the teen girl living in Canada. You get her perspective and then eventually her identity is revealed.

This is where are larger departure from the show happens, particularly the end of the last season.

Overall I didn’t find this has as much impact or
Social commentary as the first one but so loved spending more time with these characters and getting a background of Aunt Lydia they didn’t suck (that episode was terrible)

Ann Dowd (Aunt Lydia) is one of the narrators

22 of 27 people found this review helpful

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Expands Gilead At the Cost of Character

The narration was well done, and I was especially glad to listen to Ann Dowd narrate for Aunt Lydia. The story of The Testaments expands Gilead in interesting new ways. What is it like to be the daughter of a Commander? Who becomes an Aunt? How does Gilead fit into the global community? However, it lacks the character and writing style that made The Handmaid's Tale so great. I never wanted to back it up to hear a powerfully written sentence again or feel for the characters. Of the three main characters, Aunt Lydia was the most interesting while the other too are boring or annoying. It reads like a basic young adult dystopian fiction novel for too much of its contents.

14 of 17 people found this review helpful

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Do not recommend

I have re-read the original novel many times, and I think one of its major achievements is its poetic and insular nature--essentially making the rise of Gilead (and its reworking of society) a chamber piece in the the house at which Offred is stationed, and furthermore, in her mind during her many periods of musing during forced solitude and stillness. There is a lyricism to the prose in these moments that perfectly captures the mind spinning its wheels in boredom.
The quote in that work about paintings of harems being not about sex but about boredom, about women in suspended animation, still haunts me. Offred is also an everywoman in the sense that she is not particularly courageous nor cunning, and this relatability makes the action sequences at the novel's end feel more earned and credible.

The Testaments has none of those qualities. It traded in the silence and poetry of the former for plotting straight out of a "B" action movie. I laughed out loud when one character is put through a self defense regimen lifted from a Jason Statham movie or the like. I am a long time Atwood fan, but her worst tendencies are manifest here (as they were in her disappointing The Heart Goes Last, and to some extent, The MadAdam Trilogy)--cheesy wordplay, a feeling of Dickensian coincidence that is contrived at best, clunky humor before heart or logic. Its greatest strength lay in the acerbic wit of Aunt Lydia, who should have been the only narrator of the work. Atwood's ability to accurately depict the pettiness and cruelty of children and teenagers, evidenced in Cat's Eye and The Blind Assassin, is absent in the other two young narrators. One is a cliché of a capricious and petulant teen and the other failed to engage my interest entirely.

16 of 21 people found this review helpful

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Just okay

I have read both books and am a huge fan of the series, which may be the reason for my lowered score of this book. It felt more like a YA book than what I’m guessing it should have. Loved Aunt Lydia’s portion of it, but not the rest so much. It did wrap it up, so to say, but eh. Overall great narrator performances. Also, the chapter numbers and titles read were almost creepy

11 of 16 people found this review helpful