Critics deem The Testaments 'addictive'

Critics deem The Testaments 'addictive'

Critics have dubbed Margaret Atwood’s Booker-shortlisted The Testaments (Chatto) an “addictively readable, fast-paced adventure”, but reports of occasional leaks of the novel—including piracy—have continued.

The hugely-anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, which comes 34 years after its predecessor, is publishing on Tuesday (10th September) to global fanfare, with midnight openings, a press conference and a National Theatre event broadcast to thousands of screens across the world.

The Testaments has been widely praised by reviewers although some have given more critical perspectives.

Allison Pearson in The Telegraph said that the book was addictive. “True to her mandate, Atwood has given us a blockbuster of propulsive, almost breathless narrative, stacked with twists and turns worthy of a Gothic novel,” she wrote. “Its characters are as lurid and schematic as its clever front-cover image (a woman in a bonnet in neon green), but, like the jacket picture too, impressive in their gestural efficiency…John Lanchester’s The Wall, which shared a place on the Booker longlist with The Testaments but didn’t join it on the shortlist, is the more elegant piece of dystopian fiction published this year. (Both books boast an ominous sheer rampart.) But it is Atwood’s book that has the dramatic thrust and power to shock to scorch the memory.”

Holly Williams, of the Independent, said that "as a reading experience it’s also surprisingly fun, with its plucky young heroines and juicy (if predictable) plot twists". She said it is not as powerful as the original but is enjoyable nonetheless: “It cannot fully live up to all of that [hype], but it can and does satisfy our hunger for more. It is an addictively readable, fast-paced adventure towards the collapse of Gilead, a totalitarian Christian state formed in a dystopian America, when falling fertility rates are countered via the sexual enslavement of women (the handmaids).” The i was more admiring of the novel: Anita Sethi wrote that it is a “terrifically wrought tale of horror and hope” and “a formidable achievement that will doubtless be read in decades to come”.

Alex Clark of the Guardian wrote: "Atwood’s task in returning to the world of her best-known work was a big one, but the result is a success that more than justifies her Booker prize shortlisting."

Alice O’Keeffe, books editor of The Bookseller, comments: "Does the sequel to The Handmaid's Tale live up to the hype? A resounding yes from me. We return to Gilead, 15 years after the events of the first novel, but instead of one woman's claustrophic account of her life in a grim tolitarian theocracy, the scope has widened. There are three female narrators; a teenage girl growing up in Gilead as the daughter of a Commander, another girl living in Canada whose parents have links to the Mayday resistance and Aunt Lydia, risen to great power at the heart of the regime.” O’Keeffe describes it as “A gripping, propulsive plot will have you racing through the pages to the novel's powerful conclusion".

However Douglas Douglas-Fairhurst writing in the Sunday Times, said: "The main problem is that The Testaments is a sequel to a much better book. The original novel was built up in small sections, gradually revealing more of Gilead in each one with a combination of straightforwardness and stealth. The Testaments is a far brasher, flashier affair, full of the plot hooks and cliché-rich dialogue you would expect from a Hollywood blockbuster, and occasionally even winking at its own contrivance."

Laura Freeman, of BBC Culture, wrote: “Atwood’s prose is as powerful as ever, tense and spare. She invests certain phrases with ironic fury: adulteress, precious flower, Certificate of Whiteness, fanatics, defiled. Her word games are ingenious. She forces you to think about language and how it can be made to lie. The plot is propulsive and I finished in six hours flat. But if The Handmaid’s Tale was Atwood’s mistresspiece, The Testaments is a misstep. The Handmaid’s Tale ended on a note of interrogation: “Are there any questions?” Those questions were better left unanswered.”

Earlier reviews included the New York Times, the first to publish a take on the book following Amazon’s distribution to customers six days early. Famed critic Michiko Kakutani dubbed the novel "compelling", describing its storyline as "a kind of spy thriller about a mole inside Gilead", saying Atwood's "sheer assurance as a storyteller makes for a fast, immersive narrative that's as propulsive as it is melodramatic." She notes that Atwood focuses less on the viciousness of the Gilead regime, unlike the "increasingly grisly" line taken in the TV series developed from the original story. 

Meanwhile following Amazon’s “technical error” which last week saw a small number of copies distributed to American customers early, a photo was shared on Twitter which appeared to show the book on sale in a UK Tesco store; The Bookseller understands that it was removed from sale before any copies were purchased. Meanwhile instances of pirated copies available online have also been reported.

For more reviews of The Testaments, read The Bookseller's Books in the Media round-up.