Read The Testaments Online

Authors: Margaret Atwood

The Testaments

ALSO BY MARGARET ATWOOD
NOVELS

The Edible Woman

Surfacing

Lady Oracle

Life Before Man

Bodily Harm

The Handmaid’s Tale

Cat’s Eye

The Robber Bride

Alias Grace

The Blind Assassin

Oryx and Crake

The Penelopiad

The Year of the Flood

MaddAddam

The Heart Goes Last

Hag-Seed

SHORTER FICTION

Dancing Girls

Murder in the Dark

Bluebeard’s Egg

Wilderness Tips

Good Bones and Simple Murders

The Tent

Moral Disorder

Stone Mattress

POETRY

Double Persephone

The Circle Game

The Animals in That Country

The Journals of Susanna Moodie

Procedures for Underground

Power Politics

You Are Happy

Selected Poems: 1965–1975

Two-Headed Poems

True Stories

Interlunar

Selected Poems II: Poems Selected and New, 1976–1986

Morning in the Burned House

Eating Fire: Selected Poetry, 1965–1995

The Door

NONFICTION

Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature

Days of the Rebels 1815–1840

Second Words

Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature

Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing

Moving Targets: Writing with Intent 1982–2004

Curious Pursuits: Occasional Writing

Writing with Intent: Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose 1983–2005

Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination

FOR CHILDREN

Up in the Tree

Anna’s Pet
(with Joyce Barkhouse)

For the Birds

Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut

Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes

Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda

Wandering Wenda

GRAPHIC NOVELS

Angel Catbird

The Handmaid’s Tale

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2019 by O.W. Toad, Ltd.

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

www.nanatalese.com

Doubleday is a registered trademark of Penguin Random House LLC. Nan A. Talese and the colophon are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

Cover illustration © Noma Bar / Dutch Uncle

Cover design © Suzanne Dean

Art by Suzanne Dean

Library of Congress Control Number: 2019940775

ISBN
 9780385543781 (hardcover)

EBOOK ISBN
 9780385543798

v5.4

ep

“Every woman is supposed to have the same set of motives, or else to be a monster.”

—GEORGE ELIOT,
DANIEL DERONDA

“When we look one another in the face, we’re neither of us just looking at a face we hate—no, we’re gazing into a mirror….Do you really not recognize yourselves in us…?”

—OBERSTURMBANNFÜHRER LISS TO OLD BOLSHEVIK MOSTOVSKOY, VASILY GROSSMAN,
LIFE AND FATE

“Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake….It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one.”

—URSULA K. LE GUIN,
THE TOMBS OF ATUAN

I
 
Statue
The Ardua Hall Holograph
 
1

Only dead people are allowed to have statues, but I have been given one while still alive. Already I am petrified.

This statue was a small token of appreciation for my many contributions, said the citation, which was read out by Aunt Vidala. She’d been assigned the task by our superiors, and was far from appreciative. I thanked her with as much modesty as I could summon, then pulled the rope that released the cloth drape shrouding me; it billowed to the ground, and there I stood. We don’t do cheering here at Ardua Hall, but there was some discreet clapping. I inclined my head in a nod.

My statue is larger than life, as statues tend to be, and shows me as younger, slimmer, and in better shape than I’ve been for some time. I am standing straight, shoulders back, my lips curved into a firm but benevolent smile. My eyes are fixed on some cosmic point of reference understood to represent my idealism, my unflinching commitment to duty, my determination to move forward despite all obstacles. Not that anything in the sky would be visible to my statue, placed as it is in a morose cluster of trees and shrubs beside the footpath running in front of Ardua Hall. We Aunts must not be too presumptuous, even in stone.

Clutching my left hand is a girl of seven or eight, gazing up at me with trusting eyes. My right hand rests on the head of a woman crouched at my side, her hair veiled, her eyes upturned in an expression that could be read as either craven or grateful—one of our Handmaids—and behind me is one of my Pearl Girls, ready to set out on her missionary work. Hanging from a belt around my waist is my Taser. This weapon reminds me of my failings: had I been more effective, I would not have needed such an implement. The persuasion in my voice would have been enough.

As
a group of statuary it’s not a great success: too crowded. I would have preferred more emphasis on myself. But at least I look sane. It could well have been otherwise, as the elderly sculptress—a true believer since deceased—had a tendency to confer bulging eyes on her subjects as a sign of their pious fervour. Her bust of Aunt Helena looks rabid, that of Aunt Vidala is hyperthyroid, and that of Aunt Elizabeth appears ready to explode.

At the unveiling the sculptress was nervous. Was her rendition of me sufficiently flattering? Did I approve of it? Would I be
seen
to approve? I toyed with the idea of frowning as the sheet came off, but thought better of it: I am not without compassion. “Very lifelike,” I said.

That was nine years ago. Since then my statue has weathered: pigeons have decorated me, moss has sprouted in my damper crevices. Votaries have taken to leaving offerings at my feet: eggs for fertility, oranges to suggest the fullness of pregnancy, croissants to reference the moon. I ignore the breadstuffs—usually they have been rained on—but pocket the oranges. Oranges are so refreshing.


I write these words in my private sanctum within the library of Ardua Hall—one of the few libraries remaining after the enthusiastic book-burnings that have been going on across our land. The corrupt and blood-smeared fingerprints of the past must be wiped away to create a clean space for the morally pure generation that is surely about to arrive. Such is the theory.

But among these bloody fingerprints are those made by ourselves, and these can’t be wiped away so easily. Over the years I’ve buried a lot of bones; now I’m inclined to dig them up again—if only for your edification, my unknown reader. If you are reading, this manuscript at least will have survived. Though perhaps I’m fantasizing: perhaps I will never have a reader. Perhaps I’ll only be talking to the wall, in more ways than one.

That’s enough inscribing for today. My hand hurts, my back aches, and my nightly cup of hot milk awaits me. I’ll stash this screed in its hiding place, avoiding the surveillance cameras—I know where they are, having placed them myself. Despite such precautions, I’m aware of the risk I’m running: writing can be dangerous. What betrayals, and then what denunciations, might lie in store for me? There are several within Ardua Hall who would love to get their hands on these pages.

Wait, I counsel them silently: it will get worse.

II
 
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