Notes On... The Testaments

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In its first week, The Testaments sold more than 103,000 copies in the UK — that’s more than double the total sales of any other hardback fiction so far this year. Margaret Atwood’s feverishly anticipated follow up to The Handmaid’s Tale had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize before even the critics had been offered a copy to review. And those who were allowed a proof before publication were shut in rooms guarded by PRs while they read the text. But is it any good?

Set 15 years after the end of the first book — leaving plenty of room for a few more series from Elizabeth Moss, Hulu and the gang — Atwood interweaves the stories of three narrators, from inside Gilead, outside Gilead and ultimately everything in between. The first half of the book had me turning my mobile to Airplane Mode and guessing all the fantastically clever ways in which Atwood might finish what I was hoping would be another seminal dose of story-telling, with lovely pacing and big important questions posed. But from the moment we learn for sure the identities of the narrators and what their aims were, the text raced to what seemed like an inevitably neat conclusion, through any means possible. The Gilead that’s lived in peoples’ minds for 35 years, with all its terrifying rules, regulations and redlines, seemed to fall apart in a matter of chapters, with unnecessarily far-fetched scenarios and characters we haven’t known and loved for all that time getting Atwood to her finish line.

If you like thrillers, you’ll probably enjoy the second half of The Testaments much more than I did. But in a world where so much information is constantly available, I can’t help but think some questions are better left unanswered, however much you think you want an ending. (KD)