This week, a book presentation will take place that could compete with the releases of the Harry Potter books in terms of its significance as a literary event: on 9 September at midnight, the Waterstones bookshop at London’s Piccadilly will start selling the first copies of The Testaments, the long-awaited sequel to the Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which needs no introduction.
The chance that there will be long queues of fans dressed in capes is perhaps smaller than when the Potter books came out, but we certainly wouldn’t be surprised if there are one or two. In The Handmaid’s Tale the now iconic capes are usually red. This is evident from the television series that was launched in 2017 and introduced the book to new generations of readers.
In the dystopian, patriarchal, puritanical, theocratic republic of Gilead that Atwood describes in her novel, handmaids, like the main character Offred (played by Elisabeth Moss), are women who have to bear children for the affluent classes in a world stripped of fertility and women’s rights. Although the novel won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize upon its release, The Handmaid’s Tale illustrates that the relevance of a literary work sometimes only becomes really evident 35 years and one binge-watching generation later.
In part thanks to Weinstein, Epstein, and Trumpstein, this old novel became the number one best-selling book on Amazon in 2017. The outfits worn by the handmaids have become one of the most powerful feminist symbols of protest across the globe, and at almost eighty years old, Atwood has been catapulted to star status. This is obvious from the way the book launch is being organized.
On 10 September, Atwood will be interviewed by BBC journalist Samira Ahmed at The National Theatre, and the conversation will be live streamed in more than one thousand cinemas worldwide. Thanks to a cooperation between the literary organization Passa Porta and Cinema Palace, there will be a live screening in Belgium, but only at the latter venue. Atwood has already announced that the sequel will answer many unresolved and pressing questions. “Dear Readers: 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 Testaments picks up fifteen years after Offred got into the back of the van that would either deliver her into the hands of the regime’s secret service or into the hands of the resistance.
MARGARET ATWOOD LIVE 10/9, 20.30, Cinema Palace