“Once a story you’ve regarded as true has turned false, you begin suspecting all stories.”

Having read and discussed Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in September 2018, the Central Library Brown Baggers tackled The Testaments at their September 2020 virtual meeting.  Set in the fictional American state of Gilead, and Canada, 15 years after the conclusion of The Handmaid’s Tale, the story is told through three perspectives, (two of whom change names at least once).  Aunt Lydia is a continuing character from The Handmaid’s Tale and provides background information on Gilead as she is writing her life experience for future researchers.  The plot revolves around an underground road to escape Gilead and strategies to bring about the eventual collapse of the oppressive society.  

The group also discussed at some length the various themes including abuse of power, conformity, and gender roles in a dystopian society, especially compared to our modern world. They also considered the literary intentions of both Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments, and whether or not these intentions were clear or successful.

Brown Baggers admitted being confused at first by the various voices telling the tale, and expressed confusion at the shifting timeline and landscapes.  They also felt that The Handmaid’s Tale was a much more compelling story than this sequel.  The ending seemed to happen quickly and was unbelievable for some.  Most did not find this to be a hopeful story, despite Atwood’s conviction that it is. Some were pleased to have more backstory for the character of Aunt Lydia, who appears in both books and the companion TV series, and said the additions to her character were worth reader confusion.

The Brown Baggers will meet again virtually on October 15 at noon to discuss A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell. Please email kfarrell@jmrl.org for details on how to participate from your computer or phone.

Books Mentioned:

Homefront by Kristin Hannah

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Film:

The Lavender Scare 

Links:

CBS News: “I Can Never Believe It Can’t Happen Here – David Rothman

Los Angeles Times: Margaret Atwood on Her Virtual ‘Testaments’ Tour Wardrobe, Totalitarianism, and Trump

National Public Radio: Atwood Hints at a Brighter Future in ‘Handmaid’ Sequel – Maureen Corrigan

The Atlantic: Margaret Atwood Bears Witness – Sophie Gilbert

KCRW Radio: ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘Testaments’ Author Margaret Atwood on Villains, Aunt Lydia, and Hope  –  Madeleine Brand

Margaret Atwood’s Biography

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