Sympathy for the Devil: The Testaments

I haven't been keeping up with what's hot in the book blogging world. I remember reading that Margaret Atwood was writing a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale a while ago, but that information didn't stick in my brain. Then just a couple of weeks ago, I started seeing The Testaments pop up everywhere.

I read The Handmaid's Tale when I first started blogging and I've been watching the TV series. I often wonder why I'm watching; it feels like misery porn. I knew I'd probably read The Testaments, but I wasn't having strong emotions one way or the other about it. When the opportunity to listen to the audiobook came about though, I was game.

All this to say, I went into The Testaments with fairly neutral feelings, which may be the best way to approach it.

The Testaments are three different documents, from three different women. One is written by a young woman who has grown up in Gilead, another by a girl who grew up in Canada not knowing her true history until her sixteenth birthday. The third document is written by the Baga Yaga of Gilead: Aunt Lydia. Their stories cover the time period after the installation of the new government and about fifteen years beyond.

Life for girls growing up in Gilead, even girls from ruling families, is about as wonderful as you think it is. All these young and vulnerable girls under the absolute power of a group of older men. No problems there, surely. Aunt Lydia and the other Aunts are tasked with the job of giving these girls a proper education (flower arranging, definitely no reading) so that they will make perfect wives when they reach the mature age of thirteen. The only other option for them is to become Aunts themselves.

To be an Aunt, the girls are educated for nine years, which includes learning to read and write. After this time period, the girls must have a term as missionaries to the dangerous and decadent world of Canada. These girls become known as Pearl Girls (yes, they wear pearls) and wander the streets of Canada with pamphlets, trying to lure young Canadian women into Gilead. After a successful conversion, a Pearl girl can become an Aunt.

No one at the border to the Pearl Girls

This is all the brainchild of Aunt Lydia, who welds as much power as she can wheedle out of the leaders. Powerful men don't what to be seen dealing with the issues of women, so it falls to Lydia. She was quick to realize this in the beginning, and from the beginning she started collecting secrets. The secrets she keeps are her most powerful weapon, and could bring Gilead down if put into the right hands.

Meanwhile in Canada, Daisy is a typical teen, although her parents are a bit over protective. Then one day a terrible tragedy changes her life dramatically and she becomes a pawn in a dangerous political game that could take down an evil government or end with her trapped behind the walls of Gilead.

The Handmaid's Tale was unique and experimental. It's taught in high schools here in Canada. The Testaments is typical of Atwood's contemporary writing. It's still very good, but not quite what she was doing in 1985.

Atwood to all her critics.

Tonally, the beginning of the book is similar to the original. There are harrowing experiences still to be told about Gilead. Then there is a tone switch and the book becomes something different. It's more espionage and adventure, than misery. I don't think I'd read the two books back to back. The differences would be quite pronounced.

Aunt Lydia's character development is interesting. In The Handmaid's Tale, she appears to be a True Believer, but here her story is one of a survivor and an opportunist. Lydia has a try at redemption, although you never really know if at any moment she'll throw someone until the bus to save herself. I secretly think that Atwood, being an elderly lady like Lydia, is saying, "Eh, we've all done some stuff."

Reviews on Goodreads fall into two camps: love it or hate it. There are few in the middle. People have Feelings about it. I'm kind of in the middle, though I lean toward the love category. The ending is contrived yes, but it feels like the the ending we need right now.

About the Audio: The bulk of the book is narrated by Bryce Dallas Howard as Agnes, Mae Whitman as Daisy, and Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia. If you don't know, Ann Dowd plays Aunt Lydia in the series. These are three excellent actresses so of course they do a great job here. And really, can anyone else be Aunt Lydia at this point? 
Thanks to Random House Audio via Volumes app for the review copy. All opinions are my own.


  1. I've got this on audio and am hesitant to listen to it and I'm not sure why. I think I'm afraid it will interfere with my love of The Handmaid's Tale.

  2. I've thought about reading this and I just can't face it. Maybe when we have a different president. :p

  3. Great review! I'm undecided as well.


Thanks for visiting! Please leave a comment. I've disabled Anonymous comments since I've had a barrage of Anon spam lately. Sorry about that.
Also, if you leave a legit comment but it contains a spammy link, it will not be published.