This article contains spoilers for the 2017 special edition audiobook of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
The feminist dystopia – which details a bleak American future where women are forced into a life of sexual servitude and surrogacy – was first published in 1985, but the story it weaves is more relevant now than ever before.
Narrated by Offred (an anonymous ‘handmaid’), The Handmaid’s Tale details a bleak American future where women are forced into a life of sexual servitude and surrogacy. Their basic human rights are stripped away, their fertility is placed above their identity and they become little more than ‘objects’ to the men around them.
Now, to celebrate the hugely anticipated TV adaptation (starring Elisabeth Moss and Samira Wiley), Atwood has teamed up with Audible to release a brand-new edition of her most famous novel. And, in it, she has unveiled a different ending (along with a few less-than-subtle sequel hints).
Narrated by none other than Claire Danes, the new edition expands on the original novel – which ended, famously, with the words, “Are there any questions?”
Of course, we had plenty – and Atwood has, at last, done her best to answer them.
As readers will no doubt remember, the final chapter of The Handmaid’s Tale is dubbed ‘Historical Notes’ and takes place in 2195, years after the events described by Offred took place – and long after Gilead, a version of America, has ceased to exist.
A character named Professor Pieixoto delivers a lecture in Nunavit, Canada, about the Gileadian period of American history and the ‘Mayday Rebellion’.
Pieixoto also discusses the story of an unnamed Handmaid (Offred) detailed in recorded tapes found decades after the fall of Gilead – and discussed how challenging it was to verify whether or not the events she described really happened.
In the new edition, Pieixoto takes things even further.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the professor reveals that the secret audiotapes were found behind a false wall in an “ancient house”.
He goes on to explain that the wall was knocked down when the Gilead Museum began excavating the property, as part of the institution’s research for their ‘Gilead Village’ (aka a Salem-esque town where visitors can go to learn about past mistakes).
Pieixoto adds that, while he cannot be sure, he doubts that Offred was ever reunited with her daughter – and hints that the situation for Gilead’s women grew even worse before it get better.
But, when an attendee asks the professor if Offred was a secret member of the Mayday Rebellion, he pauses.
Admitting he can’t be certain, he reveals he believes Offred was hiding her own resistance efforts and political leanings, but that she hid all evidence of it – even from her own tale – in a bid to protect herself.
As if that weren’t intriguing enough, Pieixoto then lets slip that he has some brand-new material about the Mayday Rebellion, but that he won’t be ready to share it for “a year or two”.
Instead, he claimed he wanted to verify their authenticity, concluding with, “Give us a year or two and I hope you'll be pleasantly surprised.” And, at the end of the lecture, he added: “I hope to be able to present the results of our further Gileadian investigations to you at some future date.”
Does anyone else smell a sequel?
Speaking with Nerdist, Atwood explained that expanding on the text made sense considering the origins of the story.
“The roots of my original book are in audio,” she said. “Offred’s story was recorded, not written, and even the ‘Historical Notes’ are a voice, so I was excited to extend the story with additional material meant specifically to be heard.
“The time is right for this Audible edition, with a stellar performance by Claire Danes and a continuation of sorts that can’t be found anywhere else. The Handmaid’s Tale is alive, it seems – and like all living things, it grows and multiplies.”
The Handmaid's Tale debuts 26 April on streaming service Hulu – and trailers have stirred up support from Donald Trump supporters, who feel the show is an attack on their administration.
Many women’s rights protesters, too, have invoked some of the story’s most iconic images and themes in order to make political points. Some dressed up as handmaids at a Texas State Senate meeting to protest an anti-abortion bill, while others carried signs with the famous line ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’ (‘Don’t let the bastards get you down) at the Women’s March.
Now, judging by the show’s most recent ‘Object’ poster (seen below), it seems as if Hulu is embracing the comparisons people are drawing between the show and America’s current political climate.
“I was asleep before – that’s how we let it happen,” Moss – as Offred – narrates in the trailer. “When they slaughtered Congress we didn’t wake up. When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Constitution, we didn’t wake up then either. Now I’m awake.”
The first three episodes will be released at once and then one new episode per week will unroll after that.