Last night, I stayed up late finishing The Testaments by Margaret Atwood.
Earlier this year, when it was announced, I wasn't that excited by the prospect of a Handmaid's Tale sequel. I had vague memories of having read the first book and not being blown away by it. I would have been about 17 when I read it, and I didn't realise how important a book it was. I remember thinking 'This is speculative fiction and it's too far removed from real life.'
I think that book must have come into my life at the wrong time. I have led a very privileged life, and my reaction to The Handmaid's Tale certainly shows that.
Over the course of the past year, particularly in the re-writing of stories for Well-Behaved Women, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a woman. I know that the viewpoints in my short story collection by no means encompass what it's like to be every woman. I can only show quite a limited set of points of view. My characters are all from my own cultural background, though I have experimented with putting them in different positions in terms of their class and age. The more I thought about what it means to be a woman today, and the more I watched what was going on in the world around me-- particularly in relation to what is going on in the United States-- the more I began to feel uneasy.
Did you know that everything that happens in The Handmaid's Tale and The Testaments has a precedent in human history?
I didn't, until last night when I read the author's note at the back of the new book.
The Testaments is a powerful book, and though at times it's horrifying, it also seems to have a message of hope. After I finished reading it, I wanted to hug it to my chest and cry. People have been calling Margaret Atwood a prophet. Perhaps that's a little bit extreme, but she's certainly a very strong, very intelligent woman, and she's living by her own words, that a word after a word after a word is power. I'm going to go back and re-read The Handmaid's Tale now, hoping that I am ready to appreciate it. Ready to learn.
As it says in The Testaments, 'History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. '