By Ralph McAllister
The Handmaid’s Tale sequel hits the shelves
Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments was published worldwide on Tuesday, 10 September. I read the 400 pages last Thursday and write to you, dear readers, as Atwood would say. The sequel to her 1985 The Handmaid’s Tale has been a long time coming.
Not that she has been exactly resting in the meantime. By my count there have been seventeen other novels and much poetry, and many essays since The Handmaid’s Tale.
I would suggest, without equivocation, that The Testaments is her masterpiece.
Picking up where she left off
The opening leads us straight back to Puritan patriarchal Giliad where the fight for survival makes cannibals of us all. Not quite perhaps, but near enough.
Aunt Lydia shares her secrets with us, as the battles for control of Giliad are fought with increasing doses of fake news, deceit and collaboration.
The stories, and there are many, are not for the faint-hearted.
Aunt Lydia dominates after surviving extreme torture as part of her introduction to hierarchical work. Two young initiates obnoxious Daisy and faithful Agnes share the telling of some of the events, but not so intimately as Lydia.
Most of the men are despicable.
But while the desire for control is endemic it is not simply just male versus female. Atwood is too clever.
Plenty of mayhem, deceit and, humour
Loyalties are shredded, murders committed and the future remains doubtful. Sound grim?
Don’t forget the indomitable humour which has always been part of the Atwood arsenal.
Lydia describes herself having “a sack-of-potatoes body.” Note the hyphens.
”So kind of you to tell me,” I said.
The muscles of my face were beginning to hurt. Under some conditions smiling is a workout.
“The Commander stuck his mouth onto my forehead in a chaste kiss, His lips were unpleasantly warm ; they made a sucking sound as they pulled away. I pictured a tiny morsel of my brain being sucked through the skin of my forehead into his mouth. A thousand such kisses later and my skull would be emptied of brain.”
Rare and precious
It is very rarely that I devote an entire column to one book, but, let me insist, this is a rare and precious novel. Booker? Of course.
Even with my failure rate of predictions, The Testaments will surely win and be talked about for just as long as The Handmaid’s Tale.
If you can only afford to buy one book a year, this is it.
So get down to Paper Plus and get Atwood’s masterpiece.