A Handmaid’s Sequel

I’m not quite sure what I was looking for when I delved into The Testaments. I’m sure I expected an acknowledgement of where we are now, and a reflection on how it all seemingly got worse. Perhaps I was looking for some form of hope. An indication that no matter how bad it’s going to get we can find a way out. Regardless of my hopes, I’m not sure I got what I wanted from Margaret Atwood’s much-anticipated sequel.

I mostly enjoyed reading The Testaments. It’s an engaging enough story. If it hadn’t had such big shoes to fill perhaps I might appreciate it more. Having said that, even if it shed the heavy expectations I don’t think it lives up to what I know Margaret Atwood can do. 

The book, the testaments, sitting on outstretched legs on a park bench

The story is told through three perspectives, one of whom is the already familiar Aunt Lydia. These are the chapters I liked the least. I saw someone describe this book as reading like fanfiction of the original, and when we were in Aunt Lydia’s head I felt that particularly resonated. I would be interested to know why Atwood chose to try and redeem Aunt Lydia. I would be interested to know whether other readers feel she was redeemed. I felt her characterisation was somewhat underdeveloped. I feel that perhaps anyone could have slipped into her shoes. 

We can only assume the two other characters are June’s daughters. As with Aunt Lydia, I am completely lost on the motivations of these characters. I think Atwood knew parts of the story she wanted to tell and knew which characters she wanted us to meet or explore, but maybe didn’t consider whether these characters she was interested in were well matched to the events that she wanted to take place.

A further element that sat uncomfortably was the way relevance to our current society felt shoehorned in. The Handmaid’s Tale has recaptured our attention in recent years because our fears for society increasingly line up with the events in the book. The Testaments had an opportunity to exploit that fear and really hit us where it hurts. Instead, the efforts to be more relevant to our present lived reality feel cheesy and poorly considered. A lazy mention of climate change that made no sense at all frustrated me with its thoughtlessness. The Handmaid’s Tale did a much better job of reflecting a possible reality, if only because it wasn’t trying so hard.

I love Margaret Atwood, and I think she creates spectacular things. I expected this book to be important, but I don’t think it has added anything to the conversation that its predecessor wasn’t able to.

What I am glad of is that Atwood did choose to offer hope. Sure, we knew Gilead eventually fell as the close of The Handmaid’s Tale, but somehow throughout The Testaments, I was poised for everything to fall apart, and the characters good intentions to ultimately be hopeless. Most likely that says something about how helpless I’ve been feeling lately.

There will always be those of us willing to do the right thing no matter the cost. Let’s hope we’re not all left to do it alone.

Turtles All The Way Down

On the one hand, I had been utterly convinced I had grown out of John Green books. My increasing cynicism about the world kind of made me question my enjoyment of them in the first place. The boys especially, in a lot of his books, are pretty stupid. But on the other hand, if 15-year-old me found out 21-year-old me thought that she was gonna throw a fit. John Green, and his brother Hank (of whom I arguably have more fondness for) were an important staple of my teenage years. So I pre-ordered TATWD. And I’m happy I did.

It’s not like it’s my favourite book ever, or it’s changed my life or anything like that. But as I finished it I just felt incredibly satisfied, and calm, not just because I had two ginger kittens crawling all over me at the time.

It felt like a book John had always wanted to write. I could really hear him throughout the story, and most so at the end. The last few pages had me sitting with my younger self, curled up with a cat, watching youtube, hearing these people tell me it wouldn’t always be the way it was. It was a very real and honest story, with an honest ending.

My skepticism about Johns characters that had grown in the years between Tfios and now has started to dissipate again. I thought about it a bunch as I took the train home, and realised one of the reasons those books had always been so interesting to me is because it was a refreshingly honest take on being a ‘Young adult’. You are a bit stupid and pretentious. You want to romanticise everything and find meaning in everything. Johns writing can make you fall in love with that kind of mindset,  but it also makes you think more about it, see consequences of it.

The road doesn’t always run smooth. But in a real way? I’m not sure what I’m saying here. But it was good.

Turtles appealed to me particularly because of the main character’s anxiety. I knew this would feature in the book before purchasing, another thing which drove me to pick it up. Aza’s anxiety manifested differently to my own in many ways, but the way in which she spoke about her thoughts read like my diary. John Green articulate feelings I struggle with, and I know thousands of others do, with perfect clarity.

The experiences Aza had beyond her anxiety were also refreshingly honest. Her anxiety was not a fancy interesting thing. And she grew to see how it went beyond her. She didn’t use her anxiety as an excuse to be shitty. She made an effort to change the behaviours, more so when she learned from her interactions with other people.

John has written a really lovely depiction of teens, and anxiety, which doesn’t glamorise either, but doesn’t shy away from all the things special about being in high school.

I may feel I have ‘aged out’ of Young adult fiction in many ways. But it turns out I still learn from it, I still love it, and when I read it I feel like I’m looking after my teenage self. Who really needed some good looking after.

Hope you’re all well, see below for aforementioned kittens
Allie x

This Must Be The Place…

The completely honest reason this book ended up in my possession was that Amazon had a 3 for 2 sale and I liked the cover.  When it arrived in the mail (with Everything Everything and How to be Parisian) I was struck by fear reading the blurb on the back. It sounded … kind of trashy. Not at all the kind of thing I’d usually pick up. But I had it now, and I really did like the cover, so I persevered.

Thank goodness I did because it was while reading this book, in Lovecrumbs cafe, that the spark of starting this blog went off in my brain. And so I suppose this is the very first proper reading books in cafes blog post.

 

rbic
Rose & Pistachio Cake at LoveCrumbs Edinburgh

 

Even a little bit into This must be the place I still wasn’t feeling quite sure about it, but I was quickly becoming terribly invested in the story without even thinking. By the end of it, I had laughed and cried and made a ton of weird reaction faces that made everyone who saw me reading rather concerned. This is, of course, the downside of reading in cafes, people do think you’re a weirdo when you burst out laughing sitting by yourself.

I came to care about the characters more than I ever dreamed was possible when I began the story. Even the ones that were kinda a little bit scumbaggy had my attention. One of the things that pained me the most was how, as I closed the book, I still wanted to know so much more about each and every single one of them. You do get a few different perspectives throughout the book, but there were some characters who I would have quite happily read 20 more chapters about.

Normally when a novel is jumping from character to character, and across time periods, I can get a little frustrated. But for the most part, O’Farrell did it rather beautifully. Towards the end, I will admit I felt it fell apart a bit. There was a weird jump, with bits that were glossed over, which took me out of the story I had been so wrapped up in. She saved it, however, and brought me right back. There is something about the way the author looks at so many relationships, in such a unique story, that is a bit magical. It’s the sort of set-up, the sort of tale that could never really happen quite the way it does. But Maggie O’Farrell sells it to you, and it becomes quite jolting every time you have to yank your nose out from amongst the pages.

I ended up falling totally in love with the story. I can absolutely see how it wouldn’t be for everyone. Hell, I didn’t even think it was for me for quite some time. Now, however, I am so glad to have read it, and I think it sparked something in me I hadn’t felt about books for a while. I think I shall be looking into more of Maggie’s work.

 

Allie