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'I genuinely felt she was talking to me': readers review Margaret Atwood's The Testaments

The sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale has wowed critics and been shortlisted for the Booker prize. But what do our readers make of it?WARNING: Contains spoilers

'I genuinely felt she was talking to me': readers review Margaret Atwood's The Testaments
‘A book for our times’ ... The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

‘It is a book for our times’

A gripping read, atmospheric and didn’t disappoint! To me it resonates, to some degree, with what is happening in some parts of the World. Populism, treatment of women and the negative view by some of refugees and immigrants. It is a book for our times. I am sad as I feel it is unlikely to be read by those who would have the most to learn from it!

A great novel and brilliant sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.
Fran Gillam, 65, East Midlands

‘It’s poetry, and it’s horror’

The Testaments is incredible. It’s poetry, and it’s horror. It’s a quick read, and yet it will never leave you. If you read The Handmaid’s Tale, you already know the world Atwood created. If you read the news, you will understand why she has written a sequel.

The story is split between three main voices, each as true and flawed, as angry and as beautiful, as the others. As we read, we find ourselves understanding, through fiction, how fact is created. We look back into the layers of story. The book reads quite simply – no fancy, wordy phrases from this Booker nominee – but there is nothing simple about the tale. The regime is there, as it was in The Handmaid’s Tale, but the viewpoint has been changed, and with it, our sight. The true darkness of The Testaments is not just in the words Atwood writes, but the bits she leaves out, the spaces where we write our own nightmares, between the chapters.

Asked what she thinks the world needs at the moment, Atwood says, Hope. The Testaments brings many things to the reader – sorrow, peace, anger – and it does indeed, give us hope, but like everything else, that hope comes with a price.

It’s a brilliant and important book, and I almost wish I had never read it, so I could read it again for the first time.
Cath, 46, Ireland

Margaret Atwood: ‘For a long time we were moving away from Gilead. Then we started going back towards it’

‘Somehow this resonates’

I’ve never read Atwood before. I watched the series, but not all – I found it grim, tortuous, although the end of season three was somewhat uplifting.

Now I’ve read The Testaments. I am not literary critic, but found it very sharp, very concise. The redemption of Aunt Lydia was a surprise, as was the understatement of the whole Gilead terror in comparison to the TV dramatisation.

Some novels, after you finish them they fade, but somehow this resonates. I will not forget this book and its wider themes and issues.

I was also expecting a feminist slant but never detected it. It is a story about humanity – thought provoking.

‘Perhaps inevitably the sequel couldn’t live up to my expectations’

I’m conflicted. I read The Handmaid’s Tale in high school, when I was 14 or 15, and found it a transformative experience. I’ve read it many times since and each time marvelled at the simplicity and beauty of the prose – like the words were carved out of stone. When I saw the poster for the sequel for the first time I was overjoyed; when I saw that it had been nominated for the Booker prize already, my hopes were sky high.

So perhaps inevitably the sequel couldn’t live up to my expectations. I swept through it in a single day, loving the additional insights into Gilead and the horrifying expansion of the world ... even as a quiet but insistent part of me was saying: “But this isn’t how that character would act,” or “But it wouldn’t be that easy”, or “But that’s too much of a coincidence.” The ending was everything I’d wanted but it also felt somehow too good to be true. The Handmaid’s Tale was a warning (one that’s been borne out in some ways) and The Testaments is saying not to worry, everything will work out OK in the end.

I’m looking forward to rereading, in a few months. I haven’t seen a single review that isn’t glowing, and I’m hoping I’ll like it more on a second time round, because I won’t be so caught up in my own expectations.
Emma Christoffersen, 29, Bermondsey, London

‘A joy to read’

I read The Handmaid’s Tale when it was first published and really enjoyed series one of the TV drama. The rest of it? Not so much. It lacked Atwood’s touch and felt more like a TV executive’s vision than hers.

The Testaments brings us so much more: Aunt Lydia’s narrative casts a clear eye on Gilead and the cultural consequences of misogyny; that of Daisy/Jade/Nicole allows a contemporary take on how it appears from the outside; and Agnes’s childhood and decision to join the Aunts shows us the difficult choices available inside a repressive regime. There are glorious touches of humour – for example the Aunts have to adopt names of cosmetics brands – and all of it in Atwood’s perfect prose. A joy to read and, just like its predecessor, worth reading many times over.
Lisa Hennessy, 62, Herefordshire

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood review – a dazzling follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale

‘There’s nothing new in it’

Profoundly disappointed. I read The Handmaid’s Tale when it was first published; the power of it was that it made us see the world in a new way; made possibilities that seemed unimaginable seem all too imaginable. Like all of Atwood’s work up to that point, it had understated heart to match its cleverness. The Testaments has none of that. There’s nothing new in it; no new insight. The idea that Aunt Lydia was “radicalised” by a bit of torture and turned into the thing she ought to have abhorred is old, old, old. It’s been so very much better done in so very many great novels over a couple of centuries at least. The point at which she suddenly “reveals herself” to the young women is unbelievable, verging on plain silly. The other two narrators are callow, verging on plain dull. It’s all plot and no insight. The one pleasure I took in it was the glorious precision of Aunt Lydia’s voice. As for the rest of it: this seemed to be the work of a novelist overly impressed with her own cleverness, and so very lacking in heart. Everything that her clever, but heart-filled, earlier novels were not. Embarrassingly, I find myself looking to the TV series to be challenged and deepened.
Sharon Blackie, 58, Galway, Ireland

‘Gripping, with good pacing’

Atwood introduces new characters to a familiar setting, so it feels more like a spin-off, or extension, than a direct sequel.

We hear the private thoughts of more characters from Gilead, which gives a wider range of viewpoints. Overall it’s gripping, with good pacing, subtle plot development and excellent characterisation. It’s also a highly relevant commentary on the oppression of women.
Charlie Anderson, 49, Brighton

‘I genuinely felt she was talking to me’

I ordered The Testaments and I was thrilled to find it outside my flat when I got home. I read it over two nights and enjoyed every well-crafted, delicious minute. It answered so many of my questions but also gave rise to a few more. Everything is wonderfully described, striking a perfect balance between painting the scene and the characters, and allowing the reader to visualise themselves in the moment and paint in some of the finer details. I cried near the end when AL describes who she believes her reader to be, I genuinely felt she was talking to me. To Margaret Atwood, I say thank you so very much for writing The Testaments and for answering so many of my questions.
Ruth Whitney, 39, Aberdeen, Scotland

‘We got a sense of completion from the ending’

I don’t think I’ve anticipated a book as much as this since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The narratives are fantastic and the exploration of the dominating Aunt Lydia is a thing that I’ve wanted for so long.

I felt that we got a sense of completion from the ending and that while it wasn’t about Offred, I cried when I realised that they were all OK.

Atwood has created this incredible universe and to realise that in the end, all the women – regardless of their status in Gilead – were on each other’s side gives me hope in a world where we’re pitted against each other.
Lauran Hampshire-Dell, 28, Camberley, Surrey

‘Fun and fast to read’

It’s as if someone kidnapped Atwood and forced her to write a beach book – a thriller with easy-to-read narration and juicy cliffhangers. But I loved it! Fun and fast to read but darkly funny.
Robyn Kemsley, 45, Jakarta

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