I will be comparing these books to the show, The Handmaid’s Tale. If you have not seen the show, you can still read these books. However one thing the show is valuable for, is developing the details of the first book. I will not be giving any specific spoilers for the show, but I will be speaking generally about it. Decide on your own if you want to keep reading.
The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in a dystopian future where The Republic of Gilead exists. In Gilead, men rule and women serve every need and whim the men have. In this future, most women are barren. Handmaids exist only to become pregnant with the highest ranking men’s babies. Then those babies are claimed by the Commander and his own Wife. The Handmaids are then given to another Commander to endure this plight all over again. This fictional reality is very grim and quite disturbing.
- Sexual assault of adults and children
- Infertility/infant death
- Abuse of adults and children
- Self harm/suicide
The Handmaid’s Tale
I began The Handmaid’s Tale just two days before the release of The Testaments because I was very curious about where Margaret Atwood was going to take the second book in relation to the first book and the show. I was able to read all of The Handmaid’s Tale in two days, just in time to pick up my copy of The Testaments.
The Handmaid’s Tale is a shorter book, at only around 300 pages. However, it does not read like a shorter book. Atwood is wonderful with her descriptions, but I found that important details were actually lacking. I was able to fill in some missing pieces because I have seen the show. The first book is the first season of the show, but the show goes into much more detail and showcases more characters and their storylines.
The Handmaid’s Tale book has a single point of view, June’s POV, which makes the story very one dimensional. In this case, I feel like the show was better just because of the further insight the audience is given. Having seen the show first, I am still glad I read the book. It was a great piece of literature with rich language and moving prose.
I started reading this book the day it released. I may have had a bit of a reading hangover from binging the first book the two days before. For that reason it took me a little longer to finish this book than I would have liked, but I relished taking my time to enjoy this book. The Testaments is my favorite book of the year for multiple reasons:
- Margaret Atwood listened to her fans and really gave us a more thrilling book. She even added two more points of view, bringing the total POV to three.
- The Testaments is action-packed. From the beginning, I did not want to put this book down. Every chapter left me hooked. I never felt bogged down by any descriptions like I sometimes felt in The Handmaid’s Tale.
- There was so much mystery which leaves the reader constantly predicting what is going to happen. The reader doesn’t even find out the true identity of the narrators until a ways into the book. I appreciated this subtlety because it made me want to keep reading.
- Perhaps the most brilliant thing that Margaret Atwood did was use the show as a bridge between the two books. I was very curious at how The Testaments was going to tie in or not tie in with the show. Would she ignore the show and just write an alternate story? Would she just follow the show as it has played out? I admit that I would have been highly disappointed with the latter. However, she did something I truly wasn’t expecting: she wrote The Testaments as if the show perfectly bridges the 15 years between the first book and the second. Characters from the show are perfectly expounded on in The Testaments.
In an interview, Margaret Atwood spoke about how she has worked with the creators and writers of The Handmaid Tale show, and she wanted to create a sequel that justified the show but gave the fans more. I believe she truly nailed this, and now I am hoping that the show really sets the stage for this book because they are perfect companions. Someone asked me if she should watch the show between reading the first and second book. I think the most ingenious thing about this series and the show adaptation is that there is no right way to consume them. I believe you will be enlightened no matter what order you choose. If you’ve seen the show, I do NOT think you even need to read the first book before enjoying The Testaments. I do think that if you enjoy the first book or the show or both then you will really appreciate The Testaments as much as I do.
Reading these books was my first exposure to Margaret Atwood’s work, and now I want to read more. I believe she is one of the most inventive contemporary authors, and I sincerely appreciate her brilliance. You can purchase The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments on Amazon now! Do you watch The Handmaid’s Tale? Let me know in the comments below.