Margaret Atwood’s high wire act

9780385543781Writing a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale is a high wire act. It’s risky: the novel has a huge cultural footprint, and the television adaption has brought all kinds of new attention to it, and the risks in trying to follow it up are high. It would have been a lot easier to do twenty years ago. It’s very easy to crash to earth in an unpleasant way revisiting it.

But Atwood pulls it off. She’s one of my favorite writers, so I dug into The Testaments on the day it was released. It displays all of her well-honed writing talents. It also offers a great counterpoint to the original. We say how Gilead grew out of our own society. Now we get to see the seeds of its destruction being down.

There has been plenty written already about its structure and the rotating-viewpoint narrative (a native-born Gileadan girl, a Canadian girl, and Aunt Lydia, who emerges as the most interesting person in the narrative). The writing is dense and lush, filled with observations that go well beneath the surface of the fictional theocracy with insights into how power and human politics work everywhere.

Enough said. It’s a triumph.

(Not quite enough said: the book is also wonderful as an object and will remind you of some of the terrible trade-offs of ebooks. It has a satisfying heft. The paper is thick and luxurious. And the jacket design is great; if you’ve only seen the front cover, you need to see it opened with the back. I love the minimalist approach of the illustration and it captures several different aspects of the novel. I love seeing this kind of care being put into the design of a book.)

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