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The Testaments (sequel)

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I finally started reading the book and I have a lot of thoughts, and assumptions, because I am somewhat disappointed.

It is easy read. It flows and I don't feel like putting it down. But it is not the best of Atwood. The first paragraph got me hopeful, the sarcasm, the word play, exactly what Margaret Atwood does best. But then it becomes - at least to the point where I am now - a very good book but not the superior writing I expected from her.

It feels, to me, like she wrote the book to try to get a handle on the mess the show runners created. It seems rushed, and it also seems like she was forced to incorporate some of the show runners ideas - which she might or might not have liked - to keep some sort of reversed continuity. And that's my disappointment. 

It is like she made a deal with the devil and now is trying to regain some control over what the show runners will do with her words. So she gets their extrapolations and creates a story from them. If there is another show, she has some control over the direction it takes (not really, TV has many ways of decimating good stories). Or maybe she just likes what is happening to the show, or wants the rights' money. It is possible.

In any case, I am still in the first quarter of the book and I am assuming there will be something like the epilogue in THT, with people analyzing Gilead after the fall, but this book just doesn't look like the original idea. I read enough of Margaret Atwood's books and THT is the one that "scares" me the most. The story is an exaggerated version of what is already happening in our current times and how lives and names get lost in the onslaught of events in an almost dystopian reality, and THT does that. It leaves us with a sense of dread, while wowing us with great writing and use of words. 

It is a good book, but it is not at the same level I would expect a sequel to THT to be. 

Also, I am not sure if it was mentioned here, the audio book (which I also have) has Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia and it is a great narration.

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"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I took the one most traveled by. It was littered with corpses, as such roads are. But as you will have noticed, my own corpse is not among them." -- Aunt Lydia

Gave me chills.

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Spoiler

When you find out that Paula went pale and decided she was ok with Agnes becoming an Aunt because Lydia called her out for murdering her former commander to pursue an adulterous affair and pinning it on the handmaid....muahahahaha. Although, poor handmaid. And poor Crystal/OfKyle.

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On 10/15/2019 at 8:02 AM, nodorothyparker said:

Booker Prize 2019: Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo win joint award as jury breaks the rules

It sounds like they changed the rules years ago to try to avoid a split decision like this that would see two winners but then two factions dug in their heels and here we are.

Refused to give the award to a black woman and decided that she should split the award with white woman who wrote a book that is not even close to her best work.

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On 10/14/2019 at 12:47 AM, alexvillage said:

I finally started reading the book and I have a lot of thoughts, and assumptions, because I am somewhat disappointed.

It is easy read. It flows and I don't feel like putting it down. But it is not the best of Atwood. The first paragraph got me hopeful, the sarcasm, the word play, exactly what Margaret Atwood does best. But then it becomes - at least to the point where I am now - a very good book but not the superior writing I expected from her.

It feels, to me, like she wrote the book to try to get a handle on the mess the show runners created. It seems rushed, and it also seems like she was forced to incorporate some of the show runners ideas - which she might or might not have liked - to keep some sort of reversed continuity. And that's my disappointment. 

It is like she made a deal with the devil and now is trying to regain some control over what the show runners will do with her words. So she gets their extrapolations and creates a story from them. If there is another show, she has some control over the direction it takes (not really, TV has many ways of decimating good stories). Or maybe she just likes what is happening to the show, or wants the rights' money. It is possible.

In any case, I am still in the first quarter of the book and I am assuming there will be something like the epilogue in THT, with people analyzing Gilead after the fall, but this book just doesn't look like the original idea. I read enough of Margaret Atwood's books and THT is the one that "scares" me the most. The story is an exaggerated version of what is already happening in our current times and how lives and names get lost in the onslaught of events in an almost dystopian reality, and THT does that. It leaves us with a sense of dread, while wowing us with great writing and use of words. 

It is a good book, but it is not at the same level I would expect a sequel to THT to be. 

Also, I am not sure if it was mentioned here, the audio book (which I also have) has Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia and it is a great narration.

"Also, I am not sure if it was mentioned here, the audio book (which I also have) has Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia and it is a great narration".

Totally agree with your last statement above. However I am thoroughly enjoying the book. There is no doubting Ms Atwood never intended to write a sequel to THT and left it with Nick telling ofFred to trust him. The rest is left to our own imaginations (brilliant).

Unfortunately more often than not Hollywood take too many liberties with authors' works of art. Scriptwriters know what sells commercially and often bastardize books. This is the case with the TV series. It's great in its own way, I look forward to season 4 just to see how they end it. Most people these days require happy endings, retributions, payback. In real life that is not always the way things play out. However this is what sells. I think Ms Atwood has written a sequel to tak back some control taken away from her by the screenwriters (just my opinion), I feel she is not entirely happy about what's happened with the Tv Series. Whenever I place myself in the world of Gilead, I may as well be in Nazi Germany, someone alone, all identity removed, no family and at the mercy of strangers with the power to do whatever they want to you.

PS. I read the book while listening to the audio-book, takes longer, but really well worth it, it makes it so much easier (at least for me) to immerse myself in the story and actually put everything in picture form. My own TV series in my head so to speak LOL

Edited by uninvolved
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I loved the book, and in many interviews Atwood doesn't imply that she "caved" to anyone, and I take her words (many of them, several interviews posted in this thread) as more reality than speculation based on dislike of the Hulu show more than on anything Atwood has said.

She says several times that the show inspired interest in the book she'd written so long ago, and also many new and old fans asking her what happened next, and that made her start seriously thinking of a sequel.  It was time, lucky for us!  

She could have written another bleak and scary book, but at this time in her life, and probably in all of our political lives, she chose to add hope, as well as some remarkable wit and insight into what happened to the "girls" so long repressed by their society.  Mirroring that with two sisters, one raised under Gilead, and one in a relatively free society was a great choice, IMO.

In 1986 she wrote a beautiful and important warning call for all of us.  In 2019 she chose hope, and, in following the first book which talked about the end of Gilead in the forum notes, and certainly implied Nick was Mayday, and Mayday definitely existed, and "June" was involved with them.  I don't think she "strayed" because of the show, or even because of money.  The book would have sold no matter what she wrote here, she could have decided to continue in the same incredibly bleak way.  She could have jumped forward and had "June" reflect as a crone about the rest of her journey, she could have had a "second Gilead" forming after the afterword of the first novel. 

The Hulu show would have continued, she wasn't "risking" any money from that, and of course she got paid for writing this book, that's her job, it's how she makes her living, she's an author.  What's more, Hulu would have probably purchased the rights to whatever she wrote, this is their biggest "created for" show they have, they weren't going to abandon it.  This story put Hulu on the map, they are all in.

I think, at this time in our world, she wanted to show hope.  She wanted to show the human spirit, undaunted, fighting corruption and oppression, and emerging triumphant in it's own way.  She wanted to say "these things WILL pass" or perhaps to say that oppressors, haters,  and dictators will lose in the end.  She could have told a war story featuring June, Mayday, the the unconquered parts of the USA finally defeating Gilead (as she tells us in the first book they do.) 

Instead she chose to tell this next part of the story with her second generation characters, keeping the story personal, and intimate, and about day to day life and those experiences in vastly different worlds.  The two sisters were perfect for that, and the tone of the book, this time told through their eyes, instead of June's, resonated.  They were the voices of the uninformed, or in some ways, the "innocents" simply taking their lives as "the way it is" and living them, until the moment they are called upon to do more.  When that happens, scared or not, they step up and finally engage with their worlds on a deeper and more significant level.  In addition, that comment in the book about their ages cast light on the ages of MOST young soldiers, barely adults, who are always on the front lines of war and revolution.

She also chose to have Aunt  Lydia be the political voice, the insider, secretly resisting all of these years, and the understandable, if horrifying lengths oppressed people will go to in order to survive.  Aunt Lydia's story echoed stories of the German concentration camps, or the Soviet Gulags, where average people needed to do some pretty sickening things, or die.  

Combined, those three POV's were powerful, and had some very important things to say.  Would Gilead have been brought down at all without someone (or more than one someone) like Lydia?  Were the horrifying things she did justified by the eventual demise of the system she was forced into, and chose to support while secretly subverting?  Were her choices to save her own life at any cost justified?  Was she a hero or a coward?  Was she an oppressor or a very crucial part of the resistance?  Was she simply selfish or was she a hero?  Can people be BOTH?  How wrong was she to do whatever it took to save her life?

I find all of these things, and more in the book to be not only worthy, but also deserving of respect, and the Booker Prize.  I don't think she "sold out" because I not only loved this book, but I love that she told such an outwardly simple, but on closer look, a deeply involved and important story about issues and choices, while staying in her lovely "first person"  style.  This time we had 3 first person voices, and each of them was not only compelling, but carried important messages about everything from indoctrination, to survival, to moral choices on a soul level, to simply being AWARE and AWAKE about our own lives in troubled times.

Edited by Umbelina · Reason: added stuff
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On 9/22/2019 at 7:30 PM, nodorothyparker said:

So I finally finished the book and it basically confirmed for me my earlier supposition that the show is another Game of Thrones: That much of what has been bemoaned as ruining the author's original work beyond where the source material left off is from the author herself and the problem has mostly been with the execution.   That's basically the only burning question I had going into this and was pretty much willing to roll with it beyond that.

As always, I like Atwood's prose and I can appreciate that she was able to write another well put together chapter of a universe she created more than 30 years ago.  Beyond that though, much of it felt very expected.  Lydia predicted in the original book that it would be much easier for the generation that followed because they wouldn't be troubled by the memories of the freer world before, but this world is about what I would have expected from a violently misogynistic totalitarian regime where men could give into their worst impulses unchecked and a generation of girls have been raised in this circumscribed hothouse environment to be fearful of their own shadows or the specter of the random penis and so unschooled that Agnes doesn't have any idea how big Gilead is or which direction is which even if she could read a map to point the way to Canada.  The only real surprise at all came in seeing that Gilead would even offer girls an out if they'd rather be dead than Wives rather than tell them to suck it up and lie back and think of Gilead.

I'm still not sure myself how I even feel about Lydia.  There's a powerful parable there about how easily the victimized can be conditioned to become the victimizer under the right circumstances, and I suppose I'm not really shocked that when confronted with the overwhelming evidence of how perverted the ideals of Gilead have become that she would side with the burn it all down and start over crowd, if that's even what she truly believes she's doing.  But even there, the whole setup of getting Daisy/Nicole into Gilead only to have to smuggle her back out feels ridiculously overwrought to achieve that end beyond the OMG Sisters! reveal.  What's the point beyond just wanting to lay eyes on Nicole for herself?  It's unnecessarily risky when she's already got the Pearl Girls unknowingly carrying messages for her.  She likely could have achieved much the same ends with Agnes with the same information that hey you've got blood relatives right over there if you just do this one thing.  It doesn't help that there was really no suspense heading into the pat happy ending since we already know they got away with it or there wouldn't be two separate testimonies about it.

I didn't hate it but it doesn't have nearly the power of the original.

This is how I feel, too. I enjoyed some of it, but the whole Daisy/Nicole being smuggled in and out, was just too much for me. A hopeful note is good, as is the fact that they both got out, and were reunited with their mother - but I can't picture someone like Lydia, suggesting that this "prize" girl be endangered in that way. They could have shot or hung her, and claimed that Nicole was still out there, that Mayday were lying if they claimed that she was the baby they'd been looking for. Also, her name is Holly, isn't it? 

I like that both girls were kind of rebellious in their own ways, and that we got a look into their version of the underground railroad, but there was no mystery over whether or not they would make it safely. 

I wonder if the show will let June leave Gilead, now that it's been written in this book. I suppose I should move anything else to the speculation thread.

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I finally managed the time to read it on the christmas holidays. I read it in two days.I was a bit disappointed, to be honest. I was expecting excellent writing with the booker price and all, and the first few chapters felt better, but then the writing got sloppier, repetitious and I haven't seen anyone else say this, but the character building felt poor as far as Nicole was concerned. She felt like she was a poorly built shallow character out of a b-grade action movie. What teenager reacts like that to her parents dying, having to abandon her friends, home, life and all with practically no questions and very little emotions. Fuck, she talked more about her "puppy"crush than her parents dying and leaving her life behind. she didn't even demand to get her stuff, any memories from home, say goodbyes or anything. Made absolutely no sense at all. Sure it would have been unsafe but that is just not how people work, when their life is interrupted. Then she is happily practicing self defence and barely objects being sent into Gilead?! When she has shown no sign of being interested in saving people up to then. It made no sense. It also made no sense that once in Gilead instead of being terrified by what she saw and keeping quiet she behaved like a bratty teen. Stupid choice, and made me hate her chracter. I felt like Atwood was trying too hard to make a teenager, when she herself is too old to relate. It was poor, absolutely poor. 

I also had a hard time buying the aunt Lydia story. in THT she is much more sinister, but her it sounds as if she had made the choice tomake Gilead pay back from the beginning. Also, she says "we all believed this was good in the beginning" which doesn't make sense as she was practically forced into it. And how did all those women go from independent normal working women who loved the law to turturers who enjoyed torturing women? It wasn't explained enough. If anything, they would have been trying to save as many as possible since the beginning. A few days in solitary confinement just doesn't do it. And why where the 4 of them picked, when there were others before Lydia who had chosen to become aunts? 

So much was left untold, and instead we were given a shot of a poor happy ending action film in book form. Wasn't what I was expecting I'm sorry. The depth, suspense, the relatability was all gone. Makes me think it really is all Atwood behind the ridiculous shit in the TV series. In that sense Nicole fitted well as June's daughter, she had the same ridiculous survival sphere around her and that empty FY attitude.  

I'm mostly disappointed as I wanted to love it, but just couldn't.

Edited by Ariam
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One thing that occurred to me.  Sure, the kids of commanders and other top professionals (like the dentist) got to go to "elite schools" that didn't teach them reading and so forth, and the girls were growing up not able to read. But we never heard about what exactly is the life of an econofamily.

Presumably not everyone was on board with Gilead's philosophy, but played along due to a desire to keep living.  and even if the guardians/eyes went through everyone's house and removed all the books (but aren't the men still allowed to read?), that doesn't stop the parents from knowing how to read and at least teaching their kids the basics.  Sure the commanders and their ilk kept their wives and family subjugated as much as they could, but that doesn't mean all the economen did so.

 

 

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I just listened to the audiobook and I'm not sure what to think. I enjoyed it (and I particularly enjoyed listening to Ann Dowd read for Lydia), but I feel like it's almost a fanfic about how the breakout character from the TV show was secretly a really good person who we can root for, and also wouldn't it be funny if a normal teen sassed back everyone in Gilead.

One of my complaints from the TV show is that I don't get what Lydia's deal is, and, in this book -- partly because I'm not sure how much I'm supposed to consider the TV show canon -- I still don't get what Lydia's deal is. I can draw a line that connects pre-Gilead Lydia to Lydia at the end of this book, but the line doesn't naturally pass through the stuff she's done on TV.

I also thought it was interesting that the epilogue mirrored the first book, and had some dude give a lecture about the story we just read that totally missed the point.

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