I am going to be reviewing the most highly anticipated and talked about book probably of the whole year: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. More specifically, I am going to be discussing the issue in the modern Western world of the decline of childbirth, and relating this what Atwood’s book.
Having loved the dystopian novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ written 34 years earlier, I like everyone else, had very high expectations of this book. But to me the novel felt entirely unnecessary as a sequel. Though it was undeniably a page turner, it followed an entirely different story line to its prequel. Probably like many others I was hoping for the storyline to follow along the story of the Handmaids or even the Marthas. But instead the story follows the life of ‘Baby Nicole’, and all those involved in bringing about the end of Gilead. The Handmaid’s Tale had dealt with themes of women in subjugation in a patriarchal society, and the ways in which they attempted to gain independence. The Testaments at a stretch can be seen to tackling these issues. The book includes female teamwork to overcome the predicament they are in, but they also portrayed consistently throughout the book in a quite negative light. The ending is predictable, and the characters (except for maybe Aunt Lydia) are nothing notable. The character development was also slightly all over the place, and for me there was too much jumping between the narrators.
One of the themes prevalent in both books is how the decline of fertility rates can impact on society. The current rate for children per families has now fallen between 2 for almost all Western countries except Iceland and Albania. The current UK rate is 1.7 which is similar to most European countries. Unlike the women in Gilead, women nowadays are less keen to have children either because of career aspirations or the impact of the growing population on climate change. The people of Gilead go to extreme measures to deal with the problems of infertility and the decline in population. For modern day women the right to choose whether or not she wants to have a child is fantastic. But there might be consequences of such choices.
One of the questions asked in The Handmaid’s Tale is whether the needs of society should be allowed to become more important than the rights of the individual. The Gileadean society population size was declining, and acting under the idea of Utilitarianism; acting in the interests of the greatest amount of people. This question is highly interesting, and Atwood could have developed it further in the sequel.
The Testaments was joint in winning the Man Booker Prize, and was brought publicity with women wearing a Handmaid’s outfit (as seen in the television programme) in a protest for pro choice in abortion. Interestingly however, the reviews of the book have been somewhat average. There are some that even argue that Atwood was using the popularity of the TV series to make a cash grab. Despite this, just in the US 125,000 copies were sold within the first week and 250,000 in the UK. Overall, I am glad I bought the book but it won’t be making it to my list of favourite novels.
The Independent published an article entitled ‘What Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments tells us about the state of feminism today’. The article mentions that Atwood ‘explores the insidious ways a society polices women’s bodies’, a notion found by many women in modern day society. I would be interested to hear if any men resonated with any parts of Atwood’s writing, and if so, which parts? Let me know your thoughts!
Until next time,