The Testaments is set 15 years after Offred’s final scene in The Handmaid’s Tale and is narrated by three female characters.
Blessed be the fruit of Margaret Atwood’s imagination, because our favourite feminist author has finally confirmed that she’s writing a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.
The original novel, penned in 1985, takes place in Gilead, a near-future version of North America in which the Constitution has been overthrown. As a result of this, women’s rights and identities have been stripped away, with fertile women being rounded up, red tagged, and forced into a life of sexual servitude and surrogacy. They are held down by their mistresses each month and raped by their ‘Commanders’. They are tortured, physically and emotionally. They see parts of their bodies cut away from them if they ever break the rules – even if the rule is something as simple as, say, speaking out of turn.
Our narrator, Offred (played by Elisabeth Moss in the TV adaptation of the same name), talks us through all of these events in a calm and matter-of-fact manner. And, come the end, she is spirited away in a black van, to an unknown destination. Indeed, a disturbing epilogue set in 2149, long after the fall of Gilead and the ‘Mayday’ Rebellion, confirmed that Offred’s fate and whereabouts remained uncertain.
Now, Atwood has decided to answer our questions with new book The Testaments, set 15 years after Offred’s final scene in The Handmaid’s Tale and will be narrated by three female characters.
“Dear Readers,” said Atwood, “everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.”
The red of the handmaids’ outfits have become famous beyond the book and the show of The Handmaid’s Tale, with women donning them for protests across the world.
But the cover for The Testaments - designed by Noma Bar, who has previously created a special edition jacket for The Handmaid’s Tale - swaps out the famous red for an image of a handmaid in a green cloak and a white bonnet with green lining, and features a hidden figure in the cloak.
Atwood said: “I am so pleased that Noma Bar took on the challenge of designing the cover for The Testaments.
“It can’t have been easy, but he came through with a cover that is fresh and intriguing: within an apparently simple double image, there are hidden figures to be discovered – just as in the book. I hope you like it as much as I do.”
Becky Hardie, Deputy Publishing Director of Chatto & Windus, who acquired UK & Commonwealth (ex Canada) rights from Karolina Sutton at Curtis Brown, says: “As a society, we’ve never needed Margaret Atwood more. The moment the van door slams on Offred’s future at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the most brilliantly ambiguous endings in literature. I cannot wait to find out what’s been going on in Atwood’s Gilead ¬– and what that might tell us about our own times.”
Richard Cable, Managing Director of Vintage, says: “Very few novels manage to speak to new generations of readers around the world in the way in which The Handmaid’s Tale clearly does. Publication of The Testaments is going to be the kind of global publishing event we don’t see very often, and we are all hugely excited at the prospect of bringing Margaret Atwood’s new book to her millions of readers.”
First published in 1985 by VINTAGE imprint Jonathan Cape, The Handmaid’s Tale was shortlisted for the 1986 Booker Prize and is an A-level curriculum text in the UK. Eight million copies have been sold globally in the English language.
And, when Donald Trump was elected in November 2016, Handmaids became a symbol of the movement against him, standing for female empowerment and resistance in the face of misogyny and the rolling back of women’s rights around the world. In 2017, when the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale launched in the UK on Channel 4, Atwood’s novel spent 16 weeks back on the Sunday Times bestseller list and VINTAGE saw book sales increase by 670% year-on-year.
Since then, the TV show has been nominated for 18, and won six, Emmy Awards across two series. A third series is currently in production.
It is worth noting that The Testaments will not be connected to the television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale.
The Testaments will be published on 10 September 2019 by Chatto & Windus, an imprint of VINTAGE, in hardback (£20).
Image: Channel 4/Hulu