In The Guardian, novelist Anne Enright reviews Margaret Atwood’s hotly anticipated new novel The Testaments, a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, which was first published over thirty years ago. The popular TV adaptation of the latter book has earned it renewed attention, and has also underscored how startling prescient it was all those year ago. Enright writes that The Testaments is a worthy successor, deepening Atwood’s insights into the political efficacy of cruelty and control. Check out an excerpt from the review below.
The novel picks up 15 or 16 years after Offred disappears to an unknown fate at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale. There are three narrators, two of them young and idealistic, one of them old and endlessly cunning. The most compelling portrait is that of wickedness – of course it is. The story is driven and described by the infamous Aunt Lydia, and she is just as terrifying, in her astringency, as you would expect her to be.
In Lydia’s world view, people rise and fall by strength or weakness, and justice is a kind of theatre. “Innocent men denying their guilt sound exactly like guilty men, as I am sure you have noticed, my reader.” She appeals to the heartless survivor in all of us – at least this is what she seems to say, that when the chips are down, we will revert to our most primitive state. A crowd of imprisoned women is described as “crocodiles”, ready to “leap, thrash about and snap”. Their first sighting of a mass execution does not dull their appetite for food, in fact it does the opposite: afterwards, Lydia is given an egg sandwich and, “I am ashamed to say, I gobbled it up with relish”.
Image of Margaret Atwood via the Hollywood Reporter.