Highlights in the Charts
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
The might of Atwood is as undeniable as that of Penguin Random House, and so naturally, the lurid green of Aunt Lydia is once again emblazoned across every bookstore with the paperback release of The Testaments. The relentless efforts of Vintage’s marketing team —hello pearl girl posters and ensuing graffiti— have ensured the success of Atwood’s long-awaited return, despite the lack of Offred, but is The Testaments really as good as The Handmaid’s Tale?
The short answer is no. How could it be? With handmaid red a political symbol in its own right, the development of Gilead’s story can never be as all-encompassing in its shock. In this light, it is right that Atwood did not continue with Offred. Unlike the TV drama, The Testaments instead favours the lives of the Aunts. A three way narrative, Aunt Lydia is the most compelling with The Testaments developing her character from two to three dimensional. There is now reason behind Aunt Lydia’s cruelty, resistance in an unexplored form, and it is up to the reader to decide if this makes Lydia redeemable.
The stories of Agnes and Nicole are slower, linking to Offred directly and displaying the world outside Gilead. The parallel stories of these two young girls explore what maturing into womanhood means in a world plagued by strife. When one path is set for you, is it possible to forge something new? Perhaps what requires the most examination, however, is our own reaction to dystopia in a climate which is becoming increasingly uncanny. Atwood remains a brutal master of exposing the flaws of our own society, and The Testaments is no exception.
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Richard Powers’ 2018 book, The Overstory, is critically revered. Having won the Pulitzer and been a shortlist contender for the Booker, it has been commended by Margaret Atwood, Colson Whitehead and Ann Patchett. Despite all that, The Overstory is still to receive rave attention from most literary social media channels. Its intriguing publication history has made it a strange example of a bestseller, and one which perhaps deserves more of our attention.
The Overstory is an epic love letter slash eulogy about the surprising interconnections between people and the natural world that surrounds them. As it follows nine people who begin their lives not understanding the importance of trees, Powers’ rich family saga remakes the landscape of ecological fiction. While the novel becomes increasingly strange, it is also deeply meditative and highly ambitious. For one, Powers stretches the boundaries of comfortable narrative form by structuring The Overstory like a tree: roots, trunk, crown, and seeds. As Powers ponders what those seeds will become, it feels overwhelmingly poetic to think they could one day transform into the books on our shelves.
The Overstory is not always a likeable novel, but it is brilliant, and as high concept as it is humane. It makes trees into characters and brings them to the forefront: “this is not our world with trees in it. It’s a world of trees, where humans have arrived”. In the face of environmental adversity, The Overstory is an increasingly vital book and a glowing contribution to the canon of great American novels.
Once Upon a Tyne by Ant and Dec
If you’re looking for something that will cheer you up and provide a laugh, then this is the book for you. We all know and love Ant and Dec, and this book is a fun, interesting and sometimes poignant tale of their journey together.
Before bringing us all the way to the present day, the book starts with Byker Grove and how they met. Even if you haven’t watched Byker Grove, this story is instantly engaging and will teach you much about how they met. Following on from this, the book moves on to the parts of their joint life we all remember. Among these are their time on Britain’s Got Talent, I’m a Celebrity, and other fun parts of their journey. You are bound to find yourself smiling or chuckling along at this genuinely entertaining read.
Written as a conversation between Ant and Dec, the book boasts an intriguing structure and a truly personal vibe. That structure brings the story to life in a way that a run-of-the-mill autobiography would not. Finally, their signature banter is present throughout: it’s easy for the reader to imagine the pair actually talking.
If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or simply need a laugh, this is the perfectly enjoyable light-hearted antidote bound to lift you out of a reading slump.