That was the first thing anyone asked when this book was announced. Do we need it? So many years after the first book was published, is a sequel necessary to the story? Straight up? No. No, it’s not necessary in the slightest. You can read The Handmaid’s Tale and get a complete story without even touching The Testaments. It does, however, give more insight into Gilead. Its formation, its running, and how the outside world perceives it.
This sequel picks up more than fifteen years after Offred’s story takes place, following three women and their interactions with Gilead. We follow one of the highest “Aunts” who runs the women’s side of things in Gilead, or at least tries to. We follow a young girl who is growing up as a commander’s daughter within this country and knows nothing else. And lastly we follow another young girl who lives in Canada, who is taught about Gilead in school, who thinks they should be stopped.
I love how well Aunt Lydia was fleshed out, we get to learn so much about her backstory and also through her about the inner runnings of how the system treats women. I was hooked throughout her chapters and lapped up every drop of information that she gave us. Through Aunt Lydia we saw more of the “eyes are everywhere” aspect of Gilead and how this worked behind the scenes. It was incredibly interesting. Showing her in a truthful light, showing the horrendous things that she did alongside helping girls and women really made her feel real. In real-life people are often multi-faceted.
Daisy is our Canadian and this was my least favourite point of view to read from. Whilst interesting at the start to see how outside countries were reacting to Gilead in terms of trade and opposing their treatment of people, I wasn’t all that interested in her plot line. I’ll delve more into that in a second.
Lastly we have Agnes Jemima, a privileged young girl who should end up with a high placed husband due to her father being a Commander. Although I didn’t enjoy Agnes’ viewpoint as much as Aunt Lydia’s, I did prefer her sections to those of Daisy. There was more to be learnt about life in the home in Gilead here as well as other sections of life in Gilead that I don’t want to mention as it would spoil the book.
Back to Daisy now, because her primary plot is what really ruined this book for me. Up until around 70/80% of the way through I was engrossed, I could barely put the book down. And then I reached a point where I felt like I was done. And after finishing the book I can tell you I wish I had stopped there. The ending of the book felt forced and oh so typical, not at all what I was looking for when reading the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. I can see that the current climate would want a happy ending to this story, but I think Atwood went slightly too far and reached glossy Hollywood fakery levels. Stopping after a slight improvement for those we’ve been following would have been enough for this tale in my opinion.
Margaret Atwood herself said: “Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.” and whilst I appreciate the last sentence and agree that the world we currently live in does indeed provide inspiration, I do wish she hadn’t bowed to pressure. To all the people writing her letters since Handmaid’s was first published. I can understand why, she’s been bombarded with these letters for decades now, and surely must just want to get some sort of conclusive ending out there for people. This for me, though, was such a disappointing ending to a book. It was so predictable and made that end 20/30% genuinely difficult to get through, there were no surprises, just sad realisation that she was taking this exactly where it felt like.
If I ever re-read this book I will be stopping before the end. Before it’s all wrapped up in a shiny bow. I’ll probably skip Daisy’s chapters too. I have heard that to get the full story Atwood is telling you should watch the TV show as well as reading the books. I’m a completionist and do want to see how the original book was adapted so I will watch the show at some point. I’m not exactly expecting to love it though. Overall I gave this 3.5/5, rounding up to a 4 on Goodreads. This is purely because of how much I was enjoying Aunt Lydia and Agnes’ sections for the majority of the book. I’m glad I read it, but I’m also disappointed.