This is a must-read for… everybody. Obviously the people who probably need to hear this message the most are not the same people who are going to pick up this book. That’s kind of okay, because for me this book was more about reinvigorating my anger that had turned into despair, and it was also a way for me to formulate arguments that had been swirling around in my brain.
It was hard to read at times, because West spends some time recounting the events leading up to 2016 election. It’s necessary to understand how we got here if we are going to fix anything.
One of the most relevant and important ideas that West talks about in these essays is that change is uncomfortable and difficult. Confronting implicit bias and challenging our ways of thinking is hard. Realizing that you have been wrong about so many things is painful. Now, cis het white men are being held accountable, and it is disrupting their lives. Good. It should. The current system our society operates under, the patriarchy, is not repairable. The only way to move forward is to dismantle the existing system and build a new one. Despite all the terrible things happening around us, it feels like this might actually be starting to happen, and that gives me hope.
West is very good at alternating between content that is very difficult and content that is slightly less difficult to read. Let’s be honest, none of this makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. The most lighthearted piece in this collection is about GOOP, Gwyneth Paltrow’s weird side hustle that proposes unrealistic and sometimes harmful beauty standards under the guise of wellness. Or in other words, one of the many examples of a woman with influence maintaining her power by oppressing other women. Don’t even get me started on Joan Rivers.
Anyway, this book is amazing and everyone should read it! It goes on sale Nov 5, so go ahead and get that pre-order in or reserve it at your library.
With this sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood answers all the burning questions we had after the original book. The problem is, those questions didn’t need to be answered. The power of The Handmaid’s Tale lies in its ambiguous ending. The reader didn’t know what happened to the characters next, and that left us to wonder. Was it too good to be true that Offred could escape? What was going to happen to Gilead? How does a society come back from this? And perhaps the most relevant question to our times – how did we let this happen?
The Testaments wraps up the story too neatly and gives readers a happier ending that I originally thought possible. The story follows three main characters – Aunt Lydia, a young woman in Gilead, and a teen activist in Canada. I didn’t bother listing the names of the two latter characters because they both have multiple names. Aunt Lydia’s perspective was by far the most interesting, but even those sections had some major issues. (Is this a totally different character? Did I miss something in The Handmaid’s Tale?) The other two young women’s narratives are presented as witness testimonies, so even though they are risking their lives in the story, the reader knows they survived long enough to debrief someone on their experiences. It felt a bit cinematic at times, especially in the way that all three characters came together in the last bit of the story. Surprise, this book is already being adapted for tv on Hulu. Also, there were several moments in this book that were meant to be big reveals, but if you’ve been keeping up with The Handmaid’s Tale show, then you already know what’s going on. I couldn’t tell if this sequel was meant for book loyalists or not, since there is some information in the book may be confusing if you haven’t seen the show. I did actually enjoy reading this, despite some (quite a few) negative opinions. Atwood is a talented writer, and this book was so gripping that I didn’t want to put it down. At the end, however, I put down the book and stared at the ceiling asking myself, “Whyyyy???“
She should have just left this alone. If she did feel the need to write another book about Gilead, why not make it a prequel? I think that would have resonated with more readers in our present America. Also, why does she refuse to address LGBT+ and race issues in Gilead? There is nary a mention. We all know that issues white hetero women face are real, but those issues are a far cry from what minority groups deal with. What does such an oppressive society as Gilead look like for those people? Give me some intersectionality, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale adaptation on Hulu has done a much better job in this aspect, though it’s still not perfect.
In the end, I gave this 3/5 stars on Goodreads, but I’m beginning to wonder if I was a bit generous.
This book was solidly okay. I’m a little surprised I even finished it, not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I listened to it as an audiobook and I end up DNFing most audiobooks. I usually get bored and stop listening. If I’m going to listen to someone talk, I would rather listen to a podcast because the hosts are usually more dynamic and the content that they are sharing is easier to absorb in 30-45 minute segments. That being said, I have a bad habit of downloading audiobooks through my library because I like the idea of audiobooks, and then I never listen to them. If anyone knows how to solve my listening problem, please pass along advice. The narrator for this audiobook is Rebecca Soler, who also narrated Sadie by Courtney Summers. Soler was a great choice of narrator, because she’s so good at conveying the emotions of an angry teen girl.
As for the story itself, the first half(ish) of the novel was my favorite. I enjoyed it enough that I kept listening. The writing was engaging, I was interested in the character of Alice, and the story was a bit suspenseful. One of the things I appreciated about this novel is that even though the two main characters show some level of attraction towards each other, there is no forced romance.
Now for some things I didn’t like. After Alice gets to the Hinterland (or Hazel Wood? I’m still not clear which is actually the fairytale land), the story gets so much less interesting. I can’t really pinpoint why, but I wasn’t very invested after that point. It was around this time that I started to notice the excessive use of similes and metaphors. There were so many that the descriptions stopped making sense. I don’t know if I noticed this because I was starting to get fed up with the story and it had been going on all along or if the writing changed dramatically after that point in the novel. Also, I wanted the story to be more high stakes. At one point one of the main characters dies suddenly, and then it turns out he isn’t dead! Because no one dies in “the stories!” Ugh. In the end everyone got what they wanted, except for me.
If you’ve read The Hazel Wood, let me know what you thought!
Wow, this book. I absolutely devoured it. The whole time I was reading it I kept thinking how I wish I had written it myself. It made me want to write fiction again, which is quite a feat because I’ve had not so great experiences with fiction writing in the past.
One thing I appreciated about this novel was the lack of character growth. Weird, right? It didn’t seem to me that the main character “grew” so much as became more self aware. I guess that’s a kind of growth in and of itself. The character recognized her flaws and apologized for them when they negatively affected other people, but she didn’t make an effort at changing. To me, that’s more reflective of real life. Sometimes people just don’t change and you have to learn to exist with them anyway, or leave them behind.
When I came to the ending, I was initially frustrated with the main character. She didn’t make the decisions I wanted her to make. She did create a life that worked for her, however temporarily. I wish I could follow the character of Frances and see how she would live the rest of her life, and whether she would start caring for herself.
This novel, and the characters in the novel, were incredibly pretentious. It reminded me of how I thought in college, or at least how I was trying to think. I wanted to have lofty ideas and express myself well. Now I look back and wonder about how little I actually knew.
As you can tell, this novel inspired a lot of self reflection, which in my mind is the mark of a 5 star book.