Handmaid’s Tale fans queue up as Margaret Atwood debuts sequel The Testaments

Margaret Atwood was in London late Monday night, joined by hundreds of fans waiting for the midnight release of her new novel, The Testaments, the highly anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.

The new novel is set 15 years after the original, and debuts amid much buzz and advanced acclaim — it’s already in the running for both the U.K.’s Man Booker Prize and the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

“Publications of this level are few and far between,” said Bea Carvalho, a fiction buyer for the Waterstones chain of bookstores, whichhostedthe launch party in London, where Atwood read from the new book.

“This is by far the biggest release of the year and one of the biggest cultural moments altogether,” she told Reuters.

Matina Panasar, the first person in line, told CBC News shewas both excited and “a bit frightened” to read Atwood’s latest.

The Canadian author “seems to have such a far sight of what’s going on in the world,” she said, adding that TheHandmaid’s Tale was prophetic” about today’s state of affairs.

Matina Panasar was the first person in line for the midnight release at Waterstones. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC

“Ilove her insight into the world, the way she can see people and women.”

For Annamika Singh, apublishing professional who was also in line, the excitement reminds her “of when I was a kid and Harry Potter was coming out.”

“It’s nice that an author can generate this kind of attention again. Because I feel like withmovies and shows and documentaries, anything very visual, that generates lots of attention, lots of audiences,” she said.

“I’m just very happy so many people are going to show up and pretty much all around the world people are going to be counting down to get their hands on a copy.”

Annamika Singh says excitement around The Testaments reminds her of the buzz for the Harry Potter books. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC

Atwood’s 1985 novel — about women forced into sexual slavery by thetheocratic state of Gilead — recently found new resonance due to both the rise of political extremism in the West and the Emmy-winning TV series starring Elisabeth Moss.

For decades, Atwood was not interested in penning a sequel.

Then, “history changed,” shetold CBC’sThe Current.

“Instead of going away from Gilead, we turned around and started coming back towards Gilead,” she toldinterim host Laura Lynch.

The Testaments is set 15 years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, about women forced into sexual slavery by the theocratic state of Gilead. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC

The new novel, which has largely been kept under wraps, is told by three narrators connected to Handmaid’s narrator, Offred.

Atwood said she focused on exploring what happened to Offred’s two daughters: the one who was taken before Gilead was created, whose name was never revealed in the book, and the other she was pregnant with in its last chapter. The third narrator inThe Testaments, Atwood said, is Aunt Lydia, who in the original helped indoctrinate other women with the beliefs of Gilead society.

Following the launch, Atwood is scheduled to appear at a live Q&A event on Tuesday at the National Theatre in London. It will be beamed around the globe, including to more than 100 cinemas across Canada.

Atwood is also set to take the novel on a worldwide tour this month — which will include nine Canadian stops.