Whitley Bay Book Group – December 2021

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

In Margaret Atwood’s follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale, the Republic of Gilead is beginning to fall apart. At this crucial moment, two girls with radically different experiences of the regime come face to face with the legendary, ruthless Aunt Lydia.

The group came to the book with differing experiences and expectations. Most but not all of us had read The Handmaid’s Tale, and some had seen the TV adaptation. Some of us rushed to buy it in hardback as soon as it came out, and some had been initially reluctant to read it in case it disappointed by comparison.

The story is told with Margaret Atwood’s usual wit and intelligence, although some of the group felt it lacked tension as Lydia gives away plot points too early in her narrative.

We were surprised by the optimism in the book, which describes how such an oppressive regime ends, and something of its beginning. The book’s three narrators are two young women from the second generation – one who has grown up within the regime and one across the border in Canada – and Aunt Lydia. We all agreed that Aunt Lydia’s was the most interesting, as we learn of her backstory and that she has probably always had a mixed agenda. We particularly enjoyed her exchanges with Judd, in which she clearly has the upper hand.

Another theme of the book is how ordinary people become complicit in and corrupted by a totalitarian regime. Would we like Aunt Lydia have donned the robe and fired the gun? The discussion broadened out to consider periods in history such as Nazi Germany, the role of the resistance, and how individuals can make a difference.

The star ratings we gave were between 3.5 and 5 with an average of 4+ and a great discussion.