The Testaments

Well, I figured it is a good time for another book review. These quiet, wintery days of rain and slush have allowed me to finish a new book I received for Christmas. (Actually, I picked it out for myself and told someone to buy it for me — but who’s checking up, right?) The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is the continuation of her last book, the Handmaid’s Tale. A continuation? A prequel? A sequel? The reviews say it takes place some 15 years after the handmaid, Offred’s, time. Sheesh. It’s as bad as the whole Star Wars saga. I can’t figure that one out, either. Notwithstanding the timing, I was excited about the follow up, as I had quite enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale. If you’d like to read my review of that one, you can do so here.

Let’s start with basics. I love Margaret Atwood as a writer. Admittedly, I haven’t devoured too many of her books, but appreciate the fact that she includes Canadian content (yeah for us canucks!) and I could have circled a tonne of new vocabulary words in this novel. I really enjoy new words. I should read more. I should encourage others to read more. Words are good. New words are even better.

Anyway… the book is comprised of 3 narratives (or “testaments”). The first being from Aunt Lydia (an elite character from the previous novel), Daisy, a woman from Canada observing Gilead from the outside, and Agnes, a young woman who has grown up in the dystopian Gilead. The plot twists around these three and their unique perspectives on the totalitarian state. Especially unique is their role as women in this theonomy. There’s a good word. It means:

Theonomy, from theos (god) and nomos (law), is a hypothetical Christian form of government in which society is ruled by divine law. Theonomists hold that divine law, including the judicial laws of the Old Testament, should be observed by modern societies. (Wikipedia, 2020)

I don’t really want to give away too much of the book, but rather share my views and thoughts. Like much of the other reviews I read, I was slightly disappointed. This sequel was much anticipated after the Handmaid’s fanfare, and I too, had greater expectations than the book delivered. At first, I found the characters slightly confusing, and it was difficult to follow along. Maybe I just need to read more. Big words and all that. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t as good as the first one.

What I did find interesting, was the idea of faith in the book. Now, bear in mind, the novel is written in this idealized world of Theonomy, and from Atwood’s own perspective, of which I don’t want to judge her views of faith, God and feminism… but I did muse about one particular passage in the book:

“The truth was not noble, it was horrible. …Up until that time I had not seriously doubted the rightness and especially the truthfulness of Gilead’s theology. If I failed at perfection, I’d concluded that the fault was mine. But as I discovered what had been changed by Gilead, what had been added, and what had been omitted, I feared I might lose my faith.

If you’ve never had a 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 alone. You feel exiled, as if you are lost in a dark wood….Everything was withering.”

1. Atwood, Margaret, Chpt.50 “The Testaments”, Penguin Random House Canada Limited, 2019, page 303.

I found this thought quite provocative. Especially coming from the character who grew up in the idealistic view of Gilead’s “right and true” society. What she believed to be true, nobel and just, was, in fact, the opposite. What she was told about the Bible, and what she actually read in the Bible, were very different. And so, I leave you with that thought. Consider it as you may. On what is your “truth” based? How will you define “faith”? Jesus often condemned the religious leaders of His time for their lack of “truth” because they twisted and added and subtracted to the texts. Do we do the same? As usual, I don’t claim to have the answers. I simply probe your thinking. As a good author should. As a good reader should. Hmmmn, I should read more.