Most likely, if you are reading this you are either a fan of me (yay) or a fan of Margaret Atwood (also, yay). I am a fan of both.
The Handmaid’s Tale
I admit, when I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in college I wasn’t blown away by it. I just didn’t get it at the time in a way that resonated with me, and I am working to be 100% honest so there it is peeps, I did not like THT when I first read it.
Fast forward a whole mess of years to the start of the TV show on Hulu. I decided that it was time I re-read this old chestnut and see if as an older (maybe wiser) adult I might get more out of it.
Boy-howdy, did I ever.
I loved the book on this second read, and I understood it in a whole new way, especially in light of the Trump Era of cluster fuckery.
Atwood’s writing is so beautiful, so seemingly effortlessly making flowers out of shit that I cannot even stand it. I’m sorry if that is foul and the complete opposite of how Atwood writes, but it’s so beautiful I can’t come up with the proper words to express it.
When I heard that Atwood had written a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale I about lost my ever-loving mind. I actually pre-ordered a copy because I wanted, no needed, to have a copy in my hot little hands the day it was released. Then it sat on my bedside table for a few days, and then I started reading it, and I did not want to stop.
I repeat: I DID NOT WANT TO STOP.
I would have read this bad boy in one day back before I had a job and a husband, but I had to content myself with getting little juicy tidbits of it each night before bed. It was kind of nice, and I was sad when I finally finished it.
I’ll start my review of the book here: It was excellent.
Now, there may be some spoilers, but at this point the book has been out for weeks and I’m sorry, but I can’t keep from talking about the plot in a review so either read, don’t read, or just close your eyes and absorb the content of this blog via osmosis, whatever floats yer boat mateys.
Onward and upward.
“Only dead people are allowed to have statues, but I have been given one while still alive. Already I am petrified.” – Margaret Atwood, The Testaments
The basic plot of The Testaments is that it’s 15 years after the events in The Handmaid’s Tale and we are getting the testimony of three women about their experiences both within and outside of Gilead.
There very different perspectives.
One is from a woman who grew up in Gilead, one from a woman who grew up in Canada, outside of Gilead, but had a lifetime of hearing about the horrors within.
Finally, the third perspective is from Aunt Lydia.
Yes, that Aunt Lydia.
Illustration- Nathalie Lees/The Guardian
I have to say, part of me enjoys Lydia’s portions more than the other two women; partly because of the Hulu show and Ann Dowd’s powerhouse performance, but also because we know so little about the Aunts and what got them to where they’re at. Learning how Lydia becomes Aunt Lydia is utter horrifying, and fascinating. We see how much someone can be pushed, how much someone can be treated like an animal, how much they are tortured and made to fear for their lives until they turn against their own kind (aka, women).
I think we all like to believe that no amount of torture would make us turn against our own, but let’s be realistic here, who really knows the answer until faced with the reality?
In The Testaments, Lydia is doing the thing you’re not supposed to do, she is writing it all down. Every wart, every ugly sore on the face of Gilead. She is committing to paper and history just how awful Gilead is, and what it does to its women. I mean, most of us, if we’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale or even just seen the TV show, we know this stuff for the most part, but it still makes for riveting reading. Simply because it reminds us of the horrors people are capable of — again, something I think most of us know (even if that knowledge is buried deep down inside).
These three perspectives weave together into a story that gives audiences another side to Gilead and its horrors, and is an excellent sequel to an already stellar piece of literature.
There were many parts that caused me to pause, take a breath, and reread them, but one that got me — to the point where I still remembered where it was weeks later when I set down to write this review — Is where two women, in training to become Aunts, discussing the suicide of another Aunt.
“But why did she do it?” I asked. “Did she want to die?”
“No one wants to die,” said Becka. “But some people don’t want to live in any of the ways that are allowed.” -Margaret Atwood, The Testaments
Think about that for a minute, and it explains not only the few choices given to women in Gilead, but the millions who face their own battles to “conform” in real life.
Gay, lesbian, transgender, anything that is considered “out of the norm” (something decided by others that makes literally no sense).
Anything that doesn’t allow a person to fit neatly into the boxes of straight, white, and male/female. They are offered a choice, live in the way that society wants you to live, or don’t. Some choose to die because they “…don’t want to live in any of the ways that are allowed.”
From The Testaments
Atwood’s world of Gilead and beyond has a way of resonating strongly with society itself in reality. She takes these ideas of what it is to be a woman, what it is to be useful, what it is to be spiritual and have a belief system, and makes us look at what happens when belief goes too far. When one person decides that their way is the “only” way and everything goes to Hell.
And through at least two of the three women in The Testaments we learn what it is to face that belief and realize it is a lie. The woman growing up inside of Gilead, as she learns to read (because Aunts are allowed to read) discovers that Gilead is a lie, that it’s tenets and the loyalty it demands of its community are all lies. That the leaders are horrible people doing horrible things in the name of power.
The woman struggles, she feels her faith shaken and destroyed, as she says;
“If you’ve never had faith, you will not understand what that means. You feel as if your best friend is dying; that everything that defined you is being burned away; that you’ll be left all alone. You feel exiled, as if you are lost in a dark wood. … the world was emptying itself of meaning. Everything was hollow. Everything was withering. … The truth was not noble, it was horrible.”
I could honestly go on for days and days talking about this books, but I leave you to read it and engage with me, your friends, your cats, whomever, about it. There is a lot in this book that takes time to unpack, and probably more than one reading, but it is worth reading. It’s worth taking the fictional lessons imparted within it’s pages and realizing that they matter in real life.
The Tipping Point
We are at a tipping point where something like Gilead could happen, and I think most women, and quite a few men, know this. We have to pay attention, and we have to stay strong in the face of looming disaster.
But that is for another blog on another day. If you haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale, go out and get it today, and while you’re at it, pick up The Testaments
“… you could believe in Gilead or you could believe in God, but not both. “ – Margaret Atwood, The Testaments