Like many others, I first became interested in this book when it was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2018. It sounded like an interesting story and I’m always intrigued by feminist dystopian fiction. I never actually bought it though because, as is always the case, I had far too much to read first. I then got a copy in a book subscription box that I used to get. It wasn’t a great subscription all round but this was definitely a highlight. The book has spent the last year or so on my shelf waiting to be read. Why did I decide to read it now? I wanted the excuse to experiment with water in some photos. I’ve had worse reasons for picking up a book but this isn’t exactly my finest hour. I was still interested but I’d also heard mixed things about Sophie Mackintosh’s debut novel. I guess that I had to find out for myself.
2019 has been a major year for pop culture events. We saw the end of an era when Endgame came out and, a couple of weeks ago, Margaret Atwood brought out the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. Yep, some 34 years after Atwood’s groundbreaking feminist dystopian novel, we are back in Gilead. One of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read on Buzzfeed (and let’s be honest, there’s a lot) was a girl complaining that we never knew what happened to Offred. What is this weird obsession that everyone has with closure? Why do we expect our stories to have an ending? Because let’s face it, we don’t have an ending for most of the people we encounter in our lives. Yes, we know the ultimate ending for everyone who is ever born but think of all the people you’ve met in your lifetime. How many of their stories do you know? And, let’s not forget that it’s a dystopian novel. People disappear all the time. Not finding out what happened to Offred fits with the genre. But, despite all of this ranting, I was obsessed as soon as it was announced that a sequel was coming. Who didn’t get excited? It’s Margaret freaking Atwood. And despite telling myself that I wasn’t going to buy it, I picked up a copy the day after it was released. I couldn’t help myself.
It’s been a while since I read The Handmaid’s Tale which is why I wanted to read it before starting The Testaments. The original novel is one of those momentous pieces of fiction that, if you read it at the right time in your life, changes you. I mean, is it any wonder that a teenage girl reading one of the most important pieces of political literature turned out to be this outspoken little feminist? But more than that. Margaret Atwood is one of the greatest writers in recent years so it definitely helped shape me as a reader. However, I have to make a point before I carry on. Just as I ranted before my Blinded by the Light review, I have something to ask. Can we please stop saying that we’re living in a world like we see in the novel? I’m not trying to suggest that things are great right now but America’s (undeniably) severe policies regarding abortions and birth control are not the same thing. And to suggest that it is would ignore the genuinely horrible conditions that many women experience around the world. Like the young girls forced into marriages or the girls facing female genital mutilation. Yeah, every woman should have the right to an abortion but at least you aren’t being sold into sex slavery by your family. Yes, we still have a long way to go but we’re nowhere near Atwood’s dystopia just yet.