by Margaret Atwood
I am late as usual to read this. I hung on until all the women in Handmaid’s outfits had finished parading in front of Waterstone’s – it was all a bit gimmicky for me. I mean I don’t mind a fancy dress launch (so long as no-one is asking me to wear it) but blimey, some people were treating this as a religious experience. I do think that The Handmaid’s Tale was a big deal book. There were themes around religious fundamentalism and perhaps more interestingly how freedoms and democratic norms are lost inch by inch and tiny decision by tiny decision. It was also a megaphone into misogyny. I read it in a couple of sittings.
I haven’t watched the TV series. Too many bodies hanging off walls for me. I understand that there was some of that in the book but over many years of reading, I have developed the skill of being able to read whilst mentally putting my fingers in my ears and whistling loudly. That way, I can be reading something disturbing but not really taking it too far in. I really am a delicate soul you know. I think that Margaret Atwood has said that the TV programme and its ongoing sequels have influenced the plot of this book and it shows. You can certainly imagine this coming to a screen near you.
So…The Testaments. Well it’s a completely different book. Whereas The Handmaid’s Tale was full of heavy duty ideas and challenges – this is a racing page turner. It’s Mission Impossible with long frocks and ritual torture. It follows three women – Aunt Lydia (nasty piece of work from first book) Agnes (a young daughter of a commander) and Daisy (another young woman who lives with her adoptive parents in Canada). We get to see some of the motivation behind Aunt Lydia’s behaviour and you will probably work out who one of the women is fairly early on. My main issue was a change of heart by one character which is never explained and seems a little bit – well – out of character.
But, she’s a great writer and this is a really good book. I’m not sure that it is Booker level good. (Although I have never really got the hang of the Booker I’ll be honest). I didn’t like it as much as I liked some of her dystopian science fiction but that’s probably just me.