From Handmaids to influencers, KYD‘s Meaghan Dew, Alan Vaarwerk, Ellen Cregan and Alice Cottrell get together in the studio to unpack Margaret Atwood’s (newly joint Booker Prize-winning) The Testaments (00.50), and the inventive new ABC web series taking on influencer culture, Content (24.00). Despite best intentions spoilers are present, particularly in the first section!
Read Freya Howarth’s review of The Testaments in our October Books Roundup.
Meaghan: Eyes on Gilead
With thanks to Melbourne Library Service – Kathleen Syme Library and Community Centre for studio space.
Theme music: Broke For Free, ‘Something Elated’.
Let us know what you think by rating and reviewing in your app of choice!
Warning: Despite our best intentions, in this podcast we need discuss the way The Testaments ended. It’s not a blow-by-blow account by any means, but if spoilers bother you, then check the Show Notes where to skip straight to Segment Two. Come back when you’ve read ‘The Testaments’ though, if the booker win wasn’t enough to recommend it, it’s no spoiler to say that we do as well.
Meaghan Dew: Welcome back to the Kill Your Darlings podcast. I’m Meaghan Dew, your podcast host and Resident professional book nerd, although I think everyone here could probably say the same. Today I’m here with…
Alan Vaarwerk: My name is Alan Vaarwerk, I’m the editor of KYD.
Ellen Cregan: I’m Ellen Cregan, and I’m the First Book Club host.
Alice Cottrell: I’m Alice, and I’m the publisher at KYD.
MD: Fantastic! So today we’re going to be discussing Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments and ABC’s Content. So two very different palettes, or are they? And we’re going to start off with The Testaments. So it’s more than 30 years since Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was published, but in light of recent developments in the US and elsewhere, the word most often used to describe it is “prescient”. It’s no wonder then that the first back onto the scene, the television series have been hugely successful, protesters have worn handmaid’s costumes to highlight the actions that can tell women’s rights and the book has popped back up in book clubs, including Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf. Given that context, Margaret Atwood’s latest book of The Testaments, a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, seems like something of an inevitability. So the recently published book is set more than 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale, revisit some of the characters and it’s also in Margaret’s respond to questions to how Gilead, the oppressive society she created, eventually fell. First off, I’d really like to know from all of you what the history with Gilead you’re bringing to reading of The Testaments and of this conversation.
AC: I read The Handmaid’s Tale a couple of years ago and watched the first season of the TV series as well, and then stopped watching it, because I thought that The Handmaid’s Tale was such a kind of perfect book in its own right with an amazing cliffhanger, that I kind of didn’t want it to be spoiled by going on to finding out more imagined ideas about the world particularly that didn’t come from Margaret Atwood. Although I think she does work as a producer on the show, but okay, so – but I wasn’t planning to read The Testaments kind of for that reason, because I love the book so much just as a kind of single great story. It’s that whole like, you know, leave it when it’s perfect thing. So, yeah, it was interesting coming to it, to read it for this.
EC: I read it either at the end of high school or at the start of the uni – The Handmaid’s Tale, is what I mean to say. And I loved it, and I also watched The Handmaid’s Tale up to season 2, at which point I thought it got a bit too violent and depressing and full-on, and despite that I was very excited to read The Testaments, and I think I read it the first night that it came out.
AV: I have not read The Handmaid’s Tale, I’ve not seen the TV series. I don’t know that I’ve actually read much Margaret Atwood at all. So I was coming to this completely fresh, and yeah, reading it kind of as a standalone book in its own right. Like there’s obviously through just sort of general cultural osmosis, you pick up things about Gilead, and about the world of The Handmaid’s Tale. But yeah in terms of you know, characters and most sort of plot points, yeah I was coming to it completely fresh.
MD: My experience is most similar to Ellen’s in that I read it quite a long time ago; The Handmaid’s Tale that is, probably when I was in my late teens. Really enjoyed it then, but definitely read it in a different way when I reread it maybe last year, or the year before. I feel like a lot of the stuff went a bit over my head in my late teens and I read The Testaments on the day it came out as well actually. I’ve watched some of the TV show, but I haven’t finished it yet. So, before we move into what we think of this book specifically, just for people who maybe haven’t read it or are looking into reading it, there are three main narratives through the book. So we kind of follow Gilead as a very structured society. particularly for women and we follow two women who are in different positions in Gilead Society. We have Aunt Lydia, who is kind of in control of the Women’s World in some sort of ways. She is in control the handmaids, definitely the young girls in Gilead and she’s accrued a lot of power over time both formal power in the sense that it’s a quite senior position, and informal power in the secrets that she keeps and hunts out and saves for rainy days. Meanwhile, Agnes is a young girl who is really in a transitional stage in her life. She’s facing being married and trying to decide what to do about that, and her narrative kind of follows what happens after that point. And the third narrative is actually from outside Gilead – at least at the start, is a 15 and 16 year old girl who is singularly as very much as someone who’s grown up in Canada, which is ostensibly neutral in this sort of situation – politically, in that –
AV: It’s the free world anyway.
MD: It is, it’s the freest world they’ve got under the circumstances so – and the best hope anyone in Gilead has in terms of escape; although it’s perhaps imperfect in some ways. So given that these are three quite different positions, how did you feel the narratives worked; do any of you have favourites and why?
AC: Aunt Lydia’s narrative was my favourite; I could happily have just had the whole book be about her. I think, I just think it’s such an interesting sort of lesson in empathy to be left behind the curtain of someone who’s a villainous character in one of the previous books. And you see such a kind of two-dimensional baddie, I guess, and be forced to understand them and their internal world and their reasoning for why they do some of the terrible things that they do so that for me was definitely the most compelling part of the story.
EC: I really liked all three, they all – I thought they all had their part to play, and they were all really well-written. Of course, it’s Margaret Atwood, but I do think that without Aunt Lydia, the book would have kind of been – I don’t know if it would have been as good, because she’s such a – she’s kind of really fleshed out in ‘The Testaments’ than she was in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, where she’s more of a two-dimensional super-bad-guy kind of villain. Whereas in this, you get to see kind of, how she came to be who she is, and maybe what’s going on in her mind a bit more, or maybe what she just wants you to think in going on in her mind.
AV: Yeah, I agree you can’t have one without the others, but it’s interesting coming at this as an outsider, but I found my favourite of the plotlines; they all congeal together towards the end. But at least as they start, my favourite of the plotlines was the one following Daisy, who is the girl growing up in Canada. And yeah, I’ve found it really interesting to sort of see Gilead from the outside, like from a Canadian perspective, to see how it sort of exists in the wider world, and see how Canadian government even though it’s objectively the – what’s going on in Gilead is you know, they referred to it as a military coup; a fundamentalist coup; how it is still tolerated by the International Community; kind of the political aspects around that I found quite interesting in the way that there are sort of activist cells and you know, people trying to get refugees out of Canada and then also all that aside, the storyline following Daisy. It’s real espionage thriller kind of plotline, whereas I think Aunt Lydia’s takes on more of that kind of confessional memoir sort of style, and then Agnes’s takes on more of a – at least again starts out as almost as Victorian kind of very domestic style, when talking about sort of marriage, and the way the house works, and the way the women sort of move around the house and exist in that sort of sphere. So, but yeah, it’s interesting how they do all kind of come together.
MD: So Agnes is certainly I think – for those of us who read The Handmaid’s Tale – Agnes’s story was one that felt most similar to Handmaids, in that her world is maybe the most constrained. Lydia has a really clear role in society, but she knows a lot of things that maybe she shouldn’t and has a bit of control and power, and Daisy certainly in Canada has a lot more control over her own actions, even when there are things going on that kind of close her choices for her. She still has more knowledge and more control, I guess in that way than Agnes does. Whereas Agnes’s world is quite small in a lot of ways, although it opens up as the book continues. I too found Lydia’s the most compelling which I think might be a feature of having read The Handmaid’s Tale. I know the charge that was layered at the TV show was at points, it started asking you to sympathize with these villainous characters, but I don’t think that that’s necessarily what it was trying to do or necessarily a bad thing. I think one of the things that made it so compelling was it made me feel quite ill sometimes seeing how having seen the terrible things that Lydia was involved in, that had the thought at least reading hers: “Oh, she’s excusing herself to a future audience and knowing that Gilead may fall, and her reputation will be something that is considered”. So I felt that actually was really interesting because I don’t think it necessarily made me feel for her more at all. It made me feel kind of slightly more repulsed by her actions that she was able to excuse them to herself to such a degree.
AC: I didn’t feel that way at all. I felt like it was a really interesting comment on what people will do to survive in those kind of situations. I think a lot of people myself included, would like to think that if you’re in that kind of scenario, you’d be like the resistance fighter and you know, the Plucky person leading a revolution. But most people are likely to be collaborators and or dead. Yeah, so and to be guided by self-preservation, so I thought that Aunt Lydia’s narrative was that kind of exploration of an uncomfortable truth that largely in those kind of scenarios, the pressure on people means that they will do despicable things. If it’s to save her own skin.
AV: Great power is that she’s kind of a political genius, I suppose. She knows her method of survival is playing people off against one another and building influence and building secrets and exercising her will through other people I suppose.
MD: Certainly it seems like Alan was able to enjoy the narrative despite not having the background that perhaps we did. I certainly got the feeling reading it, that this would stand alone quite well, but they were almost Easter eggs to a certain extent for people who were familiar with the characters from earlier work, whether that be the show or the book ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. How does this work as a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale for those who have read that, and was it necessary?
AC: I think it works well. I’m glad it wasn’t a continuation of the same story. And then it was just an exploration of the world and the society and giving you kind of more context and understanding of different people’s place in that world, but I don’t think it was necessary. I enjoy as much as I enjoyed reading it. It’s like the amazing thing about Margaret Atwood and The Handmaid’s Tale, but others of Atwood’s novels is just, the world feels so real and fleshed out that when you finish a novel, you know, there is so much you don’t know, and there’s something so enjoyable about that mystery of – and the speculation of you know, which is what she does with the end of The Handmaid’s Tale you know, it’s a cliffhanger; you don’t know what’s going to happen. And so for me this kind of undercut a bit of that mystery it was that slight feeling of dissatisfaction, you know, when you finish a thriller and then it all just gets tied up, you know, it’s a bit like seeing the magician’s trick somehow. So I did enjoy it; the world is so fascinating; you want to learn more, but the more you learn, the less mystery there is sort of, the less interesting it gets, I think for me?
EC: I also don’t think it was necessary. But I think it was a really great sequel to the book and I’m really glad that she wrote it because I’m more of a reader who wants to know all the stuff. Like I did love the mystery at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s still quite fun to go back in and see the structures and the roots and how Gilead came to be and kind of the beginnings of how it was going to end. And I thought this was much more of a hopeful novel in a way compared to The Handmaid’s Tale, which was kind of, had this really this feminist rage to it. Whereas The Testaments is more measured and it’s more like, it’s looking at how things might end and how things might change, compared to The Handmaid’s Tale, it doesn’t have as much I think.
MD: I would call this much more a response to The Handmaid’s Tale on the TV show, than a sequel. A sequel to me does sort of suggest at least stylistically, a similar tone and I think we’ve discussed it in that Daisy’s story is quite an espionagey type style narratively. This is much more straightforward than ‘Handmaid’s Tale’. It does really feel quite clearly as you said, a response to people asking: “how did Gilead fall?”, and her being like: “this is how Gilead fell”, rather than a true sequel to the original book. So I mean, I think it works; I enjoyed it. But the main thing that I found really interesting was not necessarily the spoiler how Gilead fell, but that opening up of the different worlds in Gilead. The Handmaid’s Tale is so much set in the world of one particular handmaid; what she can see. It’s like, it feels like the narrative form of the wings that she wears around her face and that we can only see exactly what she was looking at when she’s looking at it and that’s all we know about that world. This is, you get to see the point of view of an Aunt, someone else in that group; you get to see the point of view of a young woman who is expected to become a wife in that Society. But I feel like the show is actually already doing that for me and we already in the TV show get to see moments that are heavily based inside the Martha’s lives, heavily based in not the Aunt’s so far, but I assume it’s going to happen at some point. So it didn’t feel necessary, but I did really enjoy it.
AV: Yeah, it’s interesting what you say about the narrative being quite straightforward like again, I really enjoyed this as well. And it’s not a – it’s not necessarily a dig at Margaret Atwood, but it did kind of struck me how straightforward the narrative is, like it’s not – you know, it’s well-paced; there are you know, there are Revelations; there are turns but not necessarily twists if that makes sense. So things play out, kind of in the manner that they say they’re going to, there are risks kind of hinted at but they don’t really play out; people double-crossing other people kind of hinted at but they don’t really eventuate, and so the narrative sort of – gripping as it is and enjoyable as it is – kind of does play out from start to finish I suppose.
MD: So I suppose another thing we need to consider here is what with The Handmaid’s Tale’ being referred to as so prescient in our current time. How do we feel that this particular book sits in 2019?
AC: It’s less prescient, I think. The amazing thing is about The Handmaid’s Tale is that it’s written in like 1986 I think. And you read it in 2019 and it feels contemporary. The dystopia is coming true, basically. And for me, like Ellen said, this book is more optimistic. Whereas for me, the kind of overwhelming feeling of 2019 is this kind of impotent rage; what is happening throughout the world and you’re not able to control and so this kind of doesn’t feel as current and you know, there are hints about climate stuff in The Testaments, but it’s not at the forefront and I know that certainly is at the forefront of my mind. Yeah, it’s kind of interesting that at this point in history, Margaret Atwood is sort of writing a: “things were bad for a certain while, but then they went back to normal”, when we’re sort of – our whole idea of what normal is, is being upended every other day. And the idea that you know, I’m paraphrasing here, but essentially Gilead is brought down by secrets getting out and crimes being exposed and you know, people being the leaders, being shown for being Hypocrites. It’s like we’re seeing that play out every other day like in the real world, and the new cycle just rolls on and a couple of weeks later, we’re sort of being like, forgetting that, how recent seemingly career-ending things were.
EC: Something that Margaret Atwood does with Gilead is that she doesn’t put anything in that there’s no precedent for in history. So all of the horrible things that happen; the kind of – the seed of truth to them, but I think it’s really interesting that she is an older writer and maybe this is a book that is really concerned with legacy. Because it might not have that rage, but it still has this sense of individual actions having reactions that are collective and that bring about those big changes like the individual actions of the characters in the book don’t necessarily bring Gilead down, but they kind of start the domino effect of it.
AV: Yeah, something that our reviewers, our Books Round Up brought up was that the book; it really relies on individual action to create change and that’s something we’re kind of grappling in, with at the moment in terms of single use plastic bags and straws and things like that, and that’s a sort of very small-scale version of what we’re reading about here. But essentially individual actions creating greater change, in whereas, really its collective action that’s needed, and you know in The Testaments, we’re seeing kind of individuals bringing down Gilead, and I wonder whether that – again it doesn’t feel like a cop out because it’s Margaret Atwood, and she’s such a brilliant storyteller. But if you sort of take a step back and can’t really have a sort of spy in the ranks of our – at all times that are gonna secretly be working for the greater good, like a kind of romantic as story that is, ultimately it’s, you know, large collective action that brings down regimes. And so I wonder how prescient The Testaments is, even though it’s a great story.
AC: This might just because I’ve been reading so much Soviet history, but it just reminded me more of like those kind of regimes, you know, the Berlin Wall falling. It’s that kind of like this big regime tumbling and I just don’t think in 2019 that’s how our world works anymore? Because no matter what regime’s rise and fall, like the biggest existential threat to us is climate change. And so I think the truly contemporary novels or prescient novels that are being published in 2019 are novels that grapple with that threat and this book doesn’t. She’s an amazing storyteller and an amazing writer and it’s still a worthy investigation, but it doesn’t feel like it has that total feeling of being like up-to-the-minute contemporary as The Handmaid’s Tale does for me. The stakes have changed.
MD: Though there are attempts made to weave climate change into that to suggest that this society was in some way, a response to climate change is a threat, that doesn’t ring it entirely true to me because the idea of religious fundamentalist feeling; the need to take action in part because of climate change, just seems like a thing that in our world today does not necessarily overlap. So I think the other thing to note is that one of the reasons that ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ can feel so prescient today is because of the lack of detail. Like because so much was left out it’s quite easy to kind of overlay it to the current situation. The Testaments does have more detail and that’s because it may date more quickly as our world deviates more and more from this vision of the future that we’ve given.
EC: I sort of think this is a much more accessible book, in terms of like the plot, and the language and the style which is really nice –
AV: I’ve done that; reading it as an introduction to Gilead. I found it quite accessible.
EC: Not that The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t accessible – it definitely is, she doesn’t ever talk down to her reader. She’s very much about that clear language and the really sort of clean style of prose that works so well for her books. I think that’s quite nice in a – what is quite a political book, and that kind of makes you think about politics and how regimes happen, and how they change and what that even means.
MD: Stylistically, this reminds me a lot of her other her more recent futurist books that have more of a tongue-in-cheek feel to them. The Handmaid’s Tale felt like the overall emotion was like a sort of rage and claustrophobia.
EC: It is funny. Like there are funny bits in The Testaments; I definitely laughed a few times but then it’s also very grim.
AV: Yeah there is some really kind of stomach-churning moments. There’s the name of the ritual escapes me at the moment, but you know, death by rampaging handmaids – a kind of form of execution, which is horrible.
EC: And from both perspectives of the executed and the executors.
MD: Really briefly, before we move on to our second topic Content, what did you all think of the cover? Because I’ll just put it out there, I really like it stylistically, but I guess as a purist in some ways, it annoyed me that the colour green was the primary color because we know – those of you who have read and watched the show, green is not the colour of handmaids. And also it’s clearly a handmaid’s outfit and a handmaid is not the main character in The Testament. So I’m really sort of picking at things there because stylistically I think it works really well. So what do you all think?
EC: I think this, that again stylistically, it does work really well, but I kind of think the lady on the robe looks quite silly. Like it makes me laugh a bit, looks like her arms are really long.
MD: I did not even notice that until you mentioned it.
AC: But yeah, she looks like she’s from a wellness advert.
EC: She does! There are hidden ladies everywhere though if you look at the – so there’s a handmaid on the front and a kind of non-handmaid on the back; a woman with a ponytail and if you look in the silhouettes and in the negative space, there are about six women that you can find. Yeah, we can’t tell you in a podcast about that [laughter].
AC: I think the design is genius. I think it’s been published so well, like it’s so smart and you know that there are multiple women to be found in it that I obviously haven’t seen, but the end papers with this kind of like magic eyes switching between the woman in the handmaid’s outfit and the woman not, and then inside the book each of the three strands kind of being denoted by a different symbol.
AV: I didn’t pick that up straight away. I didn’t pick up that each protagonist had a different symbol for a while.
AC: Yeah, I just think it’s super smart and clean and simple, and really well done. And obviously you’ve just seen it everywhere.
EC: Leaned into that Atwood iconography.
AC: Yeah big time and you know, I understand that that handmaid isn’t the main character in this book. But the original design; the handmaid jacket is just so iconic that you couldn’t not put it on a sequel surely.
AV: Yeah, I was looking at the Wikipedia for the original Handmaid’s Tale, to kind of – after reading ‘The Testaments’ to sort of try and get a bit of extra context and saw the original cover for the for The Handmaid’s Tale. Whoo, boy, it’s like a kind of a semi grotesque like Renaissance painting almost, it’s there’s no handmaid iconography or anything like that. It’s a, I mean, it’s a very 80s covers is what it is I suppose.
AC: Interesting, have to Google it!
MD: Like more than 30 years of publishing The Handmaid’s Tale has thrown up a whole bunch of different covers and certainly this is reminiscent of the ones with the most impact. This is the cover that would have impact no matter where it’s positioned; whether it’s a small one on your screen or a big one.
AC: Or on Instagram.
MD: Yeah, it’s speaking of Instagram. The Testaments might be a dystopian vision of the future, but our current use of social media suggests we might already be living in one of our own. ABC’s new show Content or Content shines a light on our use of technology by being one of the first shows developed to be viewed purely on your smartphone, and not just viewed on your smartphone; it’s structured so that the whole narrative is viewed through the smartphone’s of the characters. We’re watching them as they start to type text messages and then delete them; as they record videos as they Google things on other screens. We’re seeing their phone use and it’s through that that we see the story. In it, we follow wanna-be influencer and Millennial Lucy who is far from content with her life, when a car crash makes her a worldwide meme, her life changes course forever. So warning possible spoilers, but again, we won’t mention the end. So you’re safe in that sense. To start us off, I watch this through YouTube and then made it full screen as ABC suggest because suddenly that’s how you get the sense of your phone has been taken over by Lucy and Daisy’s phone interchangeably. But how did you all watch it?
AV: I watched it through Instagram, the IG TV, which is the first thing I’ve ever watched on IG TV, which you know as a viewing experience that was, that was fine, but I know that it’s converted me to IG TV, but yeah, I thought it was really interesting the way that they – that is very much a social media program first.
EC: I watched it on YouTube on my phone and I found it very claustrophobic. Like I was being sucked into my phone, which is not a feeling that I like, but I’m sure we all get from time to time.
AC: That’s what I had. I watched it on my phone too. And I often found it quite depressing because you know, you’re watching them sort of do some of this out really inane stuff on their phones and you just want to be like: “put your phone down just like go and do something else”, and you know, when you’re doing stuff on your own phone, you don’t think you’re being inane, but you watch someone else do it and you’re like, “Oh God!”. It’s so, it depressed me in a way because I recognize some of my phone usage in it, and I thought like, “Oh how pointless! Why are you like googling that dumb thing or you know spending ages watching stupid videos.” So it did feel like it said something real about the way that we use our phones.
MD: Certainly, I’m sure we all had cringe moments and we might have had different cringe moments, but from watching right at the start here not too much of a spoiler to say that Lucy flips her car, while she’s actually recording a video or doing a Facebook live. So right from the moment, I’m like: “Oh my gosh, don’t do that while you’re driving, you idiot! This is stupid!”. But even to more subtle car crashes, like watching her not pay attention to her friend when she’s discussing something quite serious and watching her friend have this like heartfelt moment with her while she is scrolling through three different screens at the same time, it really did, as you mention Alice, highlight the way we all use our own phone at times and how awful that can be.
AV: Yeah, the mechanism itself of doing everything through phone screens was really well done. Like I thought you know, it’s not the first movie or TV show to use that the device of the device, but I think, what was it? A couple of horror movies and things like that where it’s all done through webcams and things like that. Yeah, but I thought the mechanism of the phone and the way that Lucy and that she interacts with different apps and the way that they get sound and video through that like, you know voice recordings left on in the background or phone calls, FaceTime calls, Instagram live, things like that; the way that they sort of used those limitations to build a narrative, I thought was really well done.
MD: I really enjoyed how they also use the way the two characters use their devices as exposition in and of itself. Like we learned a lot about Lucy, just by watching what she was doing, not through what she was saying, not through what she was, anything like that. But just the way she would use, like the application she would use on iPhone, the speed that you would use them, how she would flip between them, how little attention she was paying. Meanwhile, Daisy recording her morning affirmations on her voice memo app; I felt like that told us a lot about her as a character as well. Just what they were using and why which was really interesting.
EC: In the real world, it kind of got a bit viral itself, where you know, the first plot point is that she flips her car and that’s how she goes viral. People actually kind of thought it was real. They saw the video and then it’s all Twitter storm happen and people were like: “What an idiot!”.
AV: Yeah, someone clicked the video so that it was only the –
EC: And it’s just so wild for something to sort of fulfil itself in that way.
AV: And it’s so bizarre because that happens in the show as well. Like I watched, before I watched any of the show, I saw on Twitter this thing going off about this, you know flip girl, and this person streaming themselves on Facebook live and then crashing the car and then yeah, someone kind of clicked the video and posted it and then people were saying: Oh my God is this real? Like this is crazy” and then all the producers of the ABC show weeks were saying: “This is bizarre. This is our show and so like we’re putting in links to the show and then I watch the show and the exact same thing happens in the show like the clip goes viral yada yada yada, but then people start saying: “Is this real? Is this a marketing stunt?”. Like, you know, I think she’s eating chips or something in the car, and so they’re like, “Oh it’s a marketing stunt for the chips”, and then yeah, it was so bizarre to see life imitating art like that.
EC: It’s sort of just shows how much they understand the internet though. That that actually did go viral.
AC: Totally. Like I thought it was really smart, but I sort of, after I finish watching it, I was like, “What was that?”. You know, it’s like, I think it’s a really interesting exploration of the form and what the form can do and I think they did that incredibly well. But the actual content of Content, I’m like, “What is this about really?”, you know, like it feels like an experiment. A bit like that; what was it, Balderdash, the Netflix show?
AV: Bandersnatch? [Laughter]
AC: Yeah, I thought the exploration of the form and like the constraints or the possibilities of what you can do with it was really interesting. And I thought it was a good experiment, but it felt a bit like Bandersnatch on Netflix. I think that it was like: “We’re trying something new!”, but then it’s like, what is the actual narrative? And so for me, it was like what’s the content of Content? It was, you know, a pretty standard story about two friends falling out and you know one little forget; forgetting what’s really important. It has some things to say about influencer culture and it certainly like touched on things that I find, you know, bad about the internet and the way that we use it or the way that it can make people behave. But it also felt a bit, I mean, I know it’s hyped because it’s a comedy, but it felt a bit kind of over-eggs in like: “This is you know, what this generation are like. They’re just absolutely obsessed with their phones and themselves” in a way that was, I felt, largely exaggerated.
AV: Especially at the beginning of the season, I felt it was the bits where Lucy was, you know, sort of obsessed with being an influencer and obsessed with getting likes and everything. I thought that was a bit over the top and a bit like, all right, we get it kids these days, but I don’t know. It kind of grew on me, especially as they’re sort of, not the influencer things, I still think was, I mean, it’s so hard to do suddenly, I guess because it’s so inherently, unsubtle, but I thought their friendship between Lucy and Daisy was actually quiet sweet and quite complex and the sort of subplots between them were more interesting than the main plot, I suppose.
MD: Definitely I do agree that at times, I’m glad the format kind of distracted me from there were some kind of after-school special issue elements to it. Like the moral being: your real friends, your friends in real life Lucy, not your friends of the internet, but that yeah, I did think their relationship was sweet, but I’m not sure if I’d say it was that complex, because to be honest, I did spend the whole time more and more was going on thinking: “Why are you still friends with this person?”. Because she just seems so… Like there are certain actions where Lucy is just careless in her friendship and takes her friend for granted, but then there are a couple of actions which are like outright cruel actions or so thoughtless that you can’t really walk back from, and that felt less believable – not that she wouldn’t do these things, but that they would still be friends if she was the sort of person I guess.
AV: I guess what I’m thinking about complexity is mostly from Daisy’s end about why yeah, because I guess Lucy is a very one-dimensional character. I guess the complexity exposes from Daisy’s end about why she is still friends with her and why she puts up with the crap that she puts up with.
MD: Maybe it is realistic; I suppose we look at friendships that are based or like by the time they reach a certain point, might be entirely based on like Nostalgia of the Friendship up until that point, rather than who these individual people are today. So maybe, maybe in that sense, it was realistic and I’m giving people too much credit for thinking that Daisy would have kicked her to the curb a while ago.
AV: Did you think it was funny? Did you laugh? Was it, did it succeed as a comedy for you?
EC: I thought it was quite over the top, to be honest. Like it’s not my kind of comedy I think.
AC: Yeah, it was too much like you knew where the beat was for you to laugh. It was – that’s what I mean about it just being a bit too hyped, that there was just sort of like: “Oh, this is the bit where I’m supposed to like”, you know, that’s the gag. So it wasn’t very subtle.
AV: There were a couple of moments that I thought were kind of funny. I think there was one where – which were more background moments that I thought were more successful than some of the foreground moments. Like there was – the one that springs to mind is, you know, she asks – Lucy ask Siri to play I think Disney or something calm and I think Siri plays – it’s like a metal band but the phrasing of the name of the band and song sounds like – that sounds like Disney or something calm, and there’s a couple of other, sort of not necessarily funny, but there are a few moments that like there’s an episode where they go bushwalking and she gets lost and she gets all these messages from her mom being like, “Where are you? Call me, call me.” And then the first thing she does when she opens her phone and sees all these messages is she like checks Instagram or messenger – she never calls her mom! [Laughter] And things like that, where some of the humor I found was, her – the way that she used her phone, which I think you yeah, some of the subtle things like that I thought were more successful than some of the over-jokes.
MD: Yeah, chuckles of recognition rather than like outright laughter at intended gags, perhaps. So I think where it really succeeded for me is, I do watch quite a bit of TV on my phone when I’m commuting and most of the time I understand that I’m watching it away that is not the way it’s intended to be watched. Like this is not the ideal viewing experience, but this is the only thing I’ve watched on my phone where I’m like, “Oh yeah, this is the ideal viewing experience for this thing”. But I think that is the most interesting thing about the show, not necessarily the story of the friendship gone wrong.
AC: I agree. But I also just thought I don’t wanna spend any more time on my phone.
EC: That was my feeling too. The claustrophobia of living inside your phone – extreme.
MD: We’re down to something very basic after that, sort of discussion of the pros and cons. Would we recommend people watch this?
AV: I’d give it a like, but not a share. [Laughter]
EC: I’m just gonna jump on that comment; that’s what I’d say too.
AC: I agree. Um, I think I’d be like watching it if you’re interested to see how they do it because it is clever, but I also wouldn’t be like: “You gotta watch the whole thing.”
MD: Yeah, I feel the same way really. So thank you to everyone. I think that’s a wreck for The Testaments and for Content from us. Could we have a really quick whip round just like on what else you’ve been reading or watching or listening, and that you would recommend unequivocally? I have pretty much been living and breathing The Handmaid’s Tale since I heard we were doing this for the podcast, so I’d recommend Eyes On Gilead, which is SBS’s wrap up podcast of The Handmaid’s Tale episodes as they screen on SBS. And since I felt like I was watching this a little bit after a lot of people that I knew had watched it and ahead of some other people – we’ve all at different points in the show, those also watched it – I think the podcast really filled that place of hearing other people who were also: “Oh my gosh!” when something happened was like really cathartic, so would recommend if you’ve been watching The Handmaid’s Tale, Eyes on Gilead is worth a listen.
EC: I just read Paul takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor and it’s so good and it has revived my reading brain which was growing quite weary by this point in the year. It’s just a really wonderful novel about gender and sexuality and queerness and it’s sort of an Orlando-esque plot to it and I just recommend it to absolutely everyone if you want a great spring novel that’s going to make you feel alive again.
AV: I’ve been reading Attraction by Ruby Porter, who is a – the books out with Text. It’s got a beautiful cover of, sort of, an oil painting of the ocean on it. She’s a New Zealand novelist. She won the Michael Gifkins Prize and it’s a beautiful book. It’s about these friends traveling through the north island of New Zealand and they sort of have interpersonal and personal sort of conflicts and there’s a family history and there’s sort of internal and external jealousies among the three of them and the way that Ruby Porter integrates history into the landscape of New Zealand and what it means to be a settler and what it means to live on Stolen land is yeah, it’s a beautiful book.
AC: I just finished reading Guest House for Young Widows, which is this fascinating journalistic nonfiction book about the women who join ISIS and sort of follows like five different characters and what happened in their lives that got them to that point and that’s interspersed with kind of more factual information about the rise of ISIS. It’s just super fascinating, really well-done kind of personal look at something that I think is incomprehensible for a lot of people. It’s so nuanced and empathetic. It illuminates without excusing I think, is that is the best thing about it. It gives you an understanding but it doesn’t ask you to forgive some of the kind of the worst things. Yeah, I’d really recommend that.
MD: Fantastic! Well, thank you all now. If you missed the names of any of those we will have them in the show notes, so you can find them there, along with of course details of the items we’ve been discussing today. So October is an exciting month for Kill Your Darlings and it’s not just because we got together and talked about The Testament – so that has definitely been a highlight for me. It marks 10 years since the Kill Your Darlings website launched in 2009. So from all of us at KYD, a really big thank you to the writers and staff who have been part of the KYD journey over the last decade. It has been and continues to be a pleasure working with you. This month also marks the publication of our very first book, which I’m really excited about, as are we all. It’s the first of what will be a yearly print collection of short fiction from KYD, titled New Australian Fiction. This first edition features brilliant short stories from authors such as Tony Birch, Julie Koh, AS Patric, Laura Elizabeth Wollett, and many more. So that makes our final wreck for the episode I think. Please pick up a copy at your local bookstore or your library. You’ve been listening to the Kill Your Darlings podcast. We’ll be back shortly, but in the meantime, don’t forget to visit the website or pick up a copy of New Australian Fiction. It’s on our birthday list and you wouldn’t want to disappoint us. See you next time!