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Home Uncategorized Ding Dong, the Witch Might Be Dead

Ding Dong, the Witch Might Be Dead

Alena Dvořáková
The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood, Chatto & Windus, 419 pp, £20, ISBN: 978-1784742324 Margaret Atwood’s new novel The Testaments, the sequel to her dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), is bound to make for a markedly different reading experience for a novice to the Republic of Gilead than for the battered Gileadean veteran who has been through the wars – by which I mean not just the original novel and Volker Schlöndorff’s 1990 film adaptation but also the three seasons of the 2017-2019 Hulu TV series, remarkable for its visual aesthetic as well the harrowing explicitness of its depictions of violence. The same warning nonetheless applies here to all kinds of viewers and readers: this review contains spoilers. The Testaments is a complex narrative woven out of three testimonies, supplemented, just as in the first novel, by a transcript of an academic symposium in which two historians familiar to us from the past discuss the three witness accounts as documentary evidence to be used in compiling Gilead’s history. The first and foremost of the testimonies comes in the form of a manuscript called the Ardua Hall holograph, written by an outspoken elderly woman with a high opinion of herself and a wicked sense of humour (especially when it comes to such hard-to-discipline subjects as imaginary penises). The text of the manuscript combines past-tense narration with present-tense appeals to the imagined reader so as to create the illusion of being composed even as we read. Its author’s confessions and revelations are layered throughout with alternating chapters from the recorded and transcribed voices of two much younger women – one brought up in Gilead in a Commander family, the other in a middle class home in free Canada. Coming from different backgrounds yet facing similar conundrums, these two look back on their deceptively innocent childhoods and reveal how they came to know the truth about themselves, about each other and about Gilead. In its first part, The Testaments relies for its effect partly on having the reader play a guessing game. Whose are the three testifying voices? No fan of Gilead will fail to identify the elderly narrator as Aunt Lydia, the formidable “educator” of handmaids, whose ability to navigate the troubled waters of Gileadean politics (and to rise from the dead) is second to none. After guessing the real identities of both the young narrators, Agnes Jemima and Daisy, we are kept on tenterhooks as to the uncertain course…



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