5 things you need to know about Margaret Atwood’s new book The Testaments

10th Sep 19 | Lifestyle

It’s one of the most hotly anticipated books of the year.

It’s been more than 30 years since Margaret Atwood released her feminist masterpiece The Handmaid’s Tale, a foreboding work of dystopian fiction that’s routinely included amongst lists of the best books of the 20th Century.

Now the author has revisited Gilead, with a follow-up: The Testaments – which launched at a packed-out Waterstones Piccadilly at midnight last night.

The Testaments released
Actors dressed as characters from the new Margaret Atwood novel, The Testaments at the Piccadilly branch of Waterstones (Jemma Crew/PA)

Thanks to the popularity of the recent Hulu television series, based on the original 1985 novel, and the politics of Donald Trump’s US presidency, The Handmaid’s Tale has gripped a whole new generation of fans – and there are plenty of people keen to find out the fate of central character Offred.

Thinking of picking up a copy on your way home? Here’s everything we know so far…

1. It’s set 15 years after the events in Gilead

If you’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale *spoiler* you’ll know it ended on a cliffhanger; Offred was led into a mysterious van, not knowing whether she’d be led to her death or smuggled over the border to freedom.

The Testaments takes place in the same totalitarian dystopia called Gilead, or Republic of Gilead, where women are stripped of their rights, and those who are fertile are controlled by the state. However, the story picks up around 15 years on from where Atwood originally left Offred.

It is told from three perspectives – that of two young, hopeful women, and Aunt Lydia, a strict oppressor and secret-keeper, who instructs women on how to become handmaids – and explores their innermost beliefs and tests their strengths.

2. It’s been nominated for the Man Booker Prize

Although it’s only just been released, The Testaments has already made the shortlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize.

It is not wholly unusual for books to be shortlisted before they’ve been released to the general public, but chair of judges and Hay festival director Peter Florence told the Guardian that getting hold of a copy was, as you might imagine with a book this anticipated, an “extraordinarily complicated process”.

3. It’s going to be adapted for TV

Producers from Hulu and MGM have announced that they’re already planning to develop the sequel for screen.

In an interview with Time, it was noted it’s unclear as to whether the story will be incorporated into the existing Hulu series or developed as a spin-off.

4. Atwood said she was inspired by readers’ questions

Over the last 30 years, Atwood has been inundated with questions from fans about her dystopian world, and the fate of its central characters – and it’s inspired her.

“Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book,” said Atwood. “Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.”

5. It’s had mostly positive reviews so far

The Guardian called it a “dazzling follow-up” while The Independent said it was “surprisingly fun”.  However, The Times critic Robert Douglas-Fairhurst felt “it did not live up to the original”.

Whether you’ve read the original or not, The Testaments has a lot to live up to – but we’re hoping it won’t disappoint.

© Press Association 2019