Top critical review
Atwood Sells Out.
20 September 2019
Having loved The Handmaid's Tale since first reading - the exquisite style and subtle construction of a terrible world through flashback and hint and observation and part-revelation - The Testaments proved to be a grave disappointment. The TV series was bad enough with long, pointless shots and the unsubtlety of a third person presentation of events, compared with its sharp first-person precursor. This text is lame, as if Atwood is just giving gratuitous answers to all the questions she'd ever been asked about Gilead and 'what happened next...'
She has succumbed to external pressure in the worst possible way. The prose is dull and lifeless with no linguistic subtleties that Atwood is so very good at. There is no tension as there was in the original text. We do not really care what happens to the characters as we passionately did for Offred. There is no poetry in the writing, no chanting, no description of outlandish ceremonies. The plot-line is baffling and lumbers to its conclusion with no real conviction about itself. The sentences are long and often opened with 'I' - repetitively sometimes. Was this really written by a world-class author? I've taught The Handmaid's Tale for A level - it's a treasure trove of ingenuity. This? Not a patch.
Even the genius of the Symposium at the end of The Handmaid's Tale - that clever, sharp, flick of the authorial wrist to cast doubt and time and perspective on Offred's narrative, that was pastiched by another, so much less proficient version of itself here in The Testaments. What a waste of opportunity to stun the reader by coming up with something equally unexpected as the first symposium - another device that would remind us of Atwood's genius as a writer - not, sadly offered here, just the tired original rehashed.
It is a shame that people cannot accept that a narrative may not have a neat ending and that we may never know what happened to the protagonist. All the unknowns about Gilead that Offred could never have known, that we would never know, have been filled in doggedly, so that no question remains unanswered. It is a shame - the overlay of this dundering elephant of a sequel will linger and spoil the mystery of The Handmaid's Tale. I wish I'd never read it.