Ahead of Cardiff BookTalk’s Margaret Atwood event on 10 December, here are a couple of questions and discussion points you may want to consider in order to make the most of the event and the subject of Margaret Atwood and her thrilling, Booker-winning sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments.
Is The Testaments in its own right a worthy winner of The Booker Prize 2019?
There has been a lot of discussion around whether or not this year’s Booker judges made the right decision in naming Margaret Atwood joint winner alongside Bernadine Everisto for the 2019 prize. Though the judges claimed it was simply impossible to choose a winner, this seems like a bit of a cop-out – are prizes not all by their very nature difficult to choose winners of? The implication is that this is the first time in the history of the UK’s most famous literary prize where there hasn’t been one obvious winner from shortlists of the world’s best writers… it seems highly implausible. Then, there are questions of whether the prize’s function is recognition where it was previously lacking (in which case, even Atwood has said she doesn’t need the money or attention) and the significance of two women who are discussing the marginalisation of women being made to share an award, in part muting their voices whilst attempting to empower them.
But putting that aside, we must ask ourselves: is The Testaments, in its own right as a novel rather than as a sequel for a remarkable canon of literary success, a worthy winner of the prize? Or is its winning in part a lifetime achievement award for Margaret Atwood? Or, perhaps, the better question is: should the Booker prize take previous writing into account, or be regarded as a stand-alone prize for one piece of fiction? Some people will answer with a resounding yes – and The Testaments is indisputably an excellent novel. Some may feel as if without the weight of the iconic The Handmaid’s Tale in the equation, it falls short. Some may have found their Testaments reading experience so intertwined with that of The Handmaid’s Tale that it’s impossible to know. Regardless of where you stand, there seems to be no escaping the fact that The Testament’s is a literary triumph.
Did we need multiple points of view?
What seemed like one of the most immersive experiences reading The Handmaid’s Tale was the window into Offred’s mind that the reader was afforded. The narrative was so compelling yet so personal, so deeply Offred’s, that you might argue that the story was less of the world of Gilead and more of Offred’s experience within it. So, it comes as a tantalising treat when we are given the perspective of three different women from different ranks in this dystopia. Previously, anything and everything we knew about Gilead was through Offred’s eyes and her role as a handmaid. Now, with one narrator a young girl who has grown up inside Gilead as the daughter of a Commander, one who has grown up in Canada with the outside knowledge of what was happening within Gilead, and the perspective of the first novel’s exceedingly pious and malevolent Aunt Lydia. Do you think we needed multiple points of view in order to paint a complete picture of the world? Or was part of the mystery of the first the fact that we could only experience what Offred did, framed by her own self-admittedly wavering memory? It seems the first-person narration is what is most important to the way we interpret the story – the very premise in some ways being the acknowledgement that we can only ever know what we are shown.
The great thing about Atwood are the never-ending questions – one leads to another, which unearths another. The tapestry of thought is part of what makes her one of the best authors of our time – not everyone is writing award-winning feminist masterpieces at 80, you know. Come along to the free Cardiff Book Talk event and have questions not only answered but uncovered.