Tuesday brought the worldwide publication of Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Testaments,” a sequel to her widely acclaimed dystopian book, “The Handmaid’s Tale.” According to Variety, current events inspired Atwood to return to the world of Gilead.
“Instead of moving away from Gilead, we started moving towards it, especially in the United States,” said the prolific writer, who’s responsible for works such as “The Edible Woman,” “Life Before Man,” and “The Penelopiad.” When she made her first public comments since its release, she explained that her novel “The Testaments” was over two years in the making. She notified her publishers of its development soon after Donald Trump entered the White House in early 2017.
“The new administration has been accompanied by an onslaught of bills aimed at restricting female reproductive rights. These measures are reminiscent of Gilead, a world in which women have no autonomy over their bodies or selves. For a society that claims to value individual freedom, I would say to them, evidently you don’t think this individual freedom extends to women,” Atwood said.
“The Testaments” takes place 15 years after “The Handmaid’s Tale.” This means that it far surpasses the events of the hugely popular television adaption, which is in its third season. Variety has reported MGM and Hulu may have a television adaptation of “The Testaments” in the works as well. The networks have reportedly brought showrunner Bruce Miller into the discussion in an attempt to determine whether or not the recently published novel can be incorporated into The Handmaid’s Tale series. The Handmaid’s Tale has already been renewed for a fourth season.
Although “The Testaments” takes place in the same world as its widely known predecessor, there are obvious distinctions between the two works. The follow up is not narrated by Offred (played by Elizabeth Moss), who led readers and viewers alike through the written and televised versions Gilead. It is instead narrated by three different women, including Aunt Lydia (played by Ann Dowd in The Handmaid’s Tale).
“Although I could not continue with the story of Offred, I could continue with three other people concerned in these events and tell the story of the beginning of the end, because we know from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ that Gilead vanishes. It’s no longer present 200 years into the future because they’re having a symposium on it.” She went on to add, “How did it collapse? How do these kinds of regimes disappear?….I was interested in exploring that.”
If “The Testaments” is adapted for television, fans will miss the iconic red robes. The book jacket features a woman wearing a green robe instead. “There [are] some new costume choices in this book,” Atwood said, addressing the change. “Human beings throughout time love outfits that tell you who you’re looking at, like football teams and things like that. So yes, we have some new outfits.”
Although the author has no formal authority in the decision-making process of the television show, she explained that she maintains regular communication with its showrunner, clueing Miller into the general direction of “The Testaments” before its publication. She also is included in the review process, as she explained on Tuesday. “I read the scripts; I make notes on them,” she said. “I have influence but no actual power. But luckily we’re in accord most of the time.”
Despite her limited involvement in the popular adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Atwood’s clout as a literary figure is undeniable. Variety compared the anticipation for “The Testaments,” which comes 34 years after its predecessor, to the sensation surrounding each passing Harry Potter installment. On Monday night, bookstores were crowded with fans eager to obtain their copy of the highly anticipated novel. On Tuesday, Atwood was greeted by a sold-out crowd at London’s National Theatre. This even was globally live-streamed to 1,300 movie theatres. During the event, actress Lily James (known for her roles in Downton Abbey, Cinderella, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, and Baby Driver) read excerpts from the novel.
“I’m very pleased and grateful to the readers who have stuck with me all these years, and to the teams of people both here and in the U.S. and Canada who have been working an amazing number of hours trying to keep a lid on [the story],” Atwood said.