As well as co-winning the 2019 Booker Prize with Bernadine Evaristo, Margaret Atwood has been nominated in two categories for the Good Reads' Best Reads this year; in Fiction for The Testaments, and in Graphic Novels for The Handmaid's Tale.
The sequel to The Handmaid's Tale was worth the wait. It's compelling, thrilling, not (quite) as hair-raising as its sister story and has wide appeal, in spite of feminist labels.
It's a human adventure - full of risk; of religious and political zealots corrupted.
It's an environmental story, of a world where fertility has become rare, and like other resources, has become something to exploit in Gilead; Atwood's dystopian version of the USA.
The Testaments is Aunt Lydia's story. It is also the story of two young women who are also witnesses to Gilead's crimes; one who has grown up in the Republic and one has grown up viewing Gilead from the outside.
Both a confession and a protective measure, Aunt Lydia's side of the story is a homecoming of sorts, written as the monolith of Gilead begins to show cracks around her.
I had grown fond of Lydia's grim exterior in The Handmaid's Tale; her adherence to Gilead's constitution ever-so-slightly in conflict with her sympathies for 'her girls.'
Lydia's induction to the new order is every bit as brutal as June's (Offred's) experience. Her former career as a Judge is taken into account, but her position in life deleted, all the same.
p.142 : "You were a damn fine judge." She (Anita) whispered to me on the third day.
"Thank you," I whispered back. "So were you."
Were was chilling.
p.144 : Of the others in our section I learned little...All that was necessary was a law degree and a uterus: a lethal combination."
p.175 : "You are all intelligent women. Through your former..." He (Commander Judd) did not want to say professions.
"Through your former experiences you are familiar with the lives of women...we want you to help us organise the separate sphere - the sphere for women."
In her indoctrination Lydia is told that the "disastrous results of the attempt to meld (the) spheres of men and women" (p.175) is blamed by the Sons of Jacob - the ruling class of Commanders - for the decline in birthrate:
Commander Judd: "Our birth rate, for various reasons , but most significantly through the selfish choices of women, is in free fall." (p.175).
The other two testaments will keep you guessing.
Agnes has grown up in Gilead as the 'daughter' of a Commander, where all girls are 'precious flowers'. She is expected to become a Commander's wife and adhere to the tenets of the Rebublic:
p.15 : "Going into my father's study was forbidden. What my father was doing in there was (said to be) very important - the important things that men did, too important for females to meddle with because they had smaller brains that were incapable of thinking large thoughts..."
Daisy's view of Gilead is coloured by the Pearl Girls who come into Canada as missionaries, seeking converts to the cause from street people and the fallen.
p.197 : "They would get hold of me somehow and drag me into Gilead, where all the women might as well be house cats and everyone was a religious maniac."
At the end of The Handmaid's Tale ( a riff on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales) readers (and viewers) were left with two pivotal questions:
What happened to June (Offred)?
What happened to Baby Nicole?
I won't say if these questions will be answered, but I will say that The Testaments is one of the best books I've read this year.
The best news yet is that we are expecting Margaret herself in Christchurch on February 12, 2020!