More than 30 years after she first imagined the totalitarian theomany at the center of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood is returning to the fictional Republic of Gilead to write a follow-up to the celebrated dystopian novel. On Wednesday, Penguin Random House announced that a sequel, The Testaments, will be published on September 10th, 2019, and take place 15 years from where the original 1985 bestseller left off.
“Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book,” Atwood wrote in a message that accompanied the publisher’s announcement. “Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.”
The book has drawn renewed interest thanks to Hulu’s critically acclaimed serialized adaptation, which debuted in 2017 and is slated to release a third season sometime next year. Atwood served as a consulting producer, helping to modernize the book’s plot for the first season. In season two, the show went in its own direction, finding discomforting relevance amidst Donald Trump’s presidency, the rise of the #MeToo movement, increasing infringements on reproductive rights, and other prominent, persisting issues threatening the lives of women.
Atwood’s The Testaments takes place 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale, while the show’s ongoing plot has thus far, has remained in the immediate fictional present, spanned less than a year, and is unlikely to have any influence on Atwood’s new material. (If you haven’t read the book or seen the show, you might want to stop reading now, as there are plenty of spoilers ahead.) So, where did Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale end? Offred, one of Gilead’s prized fertile handmaids, believes she may be pregnant, but not by not the Commander, who rapes her every month in a religious ritual attended by his infertile wife, and also secretly on the side. After the wife finds out about their “relationship,” the secret police (aka “the Eyes”) come to take Offred away, but not before Nick, her lover and probable baby daddy, gives her reason to believe she is maybe being saved by the rumored May Day resistance movement.
That’s about as conclusive as the plot gets, with the book veering away from Offred’s narration in its epilogue, which offers a loose, metafictional explanation for how her story, the events she describes, were able to be recorded on cassette tapes. The book implies that, eventually, Gilead collapsed and a more equal society was able to rebuild, but with no details on when, how or what role Offred, and possibly her child, might have played.
According to Penguin Random House, The Testaments will be told by three female characters. Could one of the three characters be Offred? Or, perhaps, her teenage daughter? Maybe both?! Are the titular testaments a reference to those cassettes? As Atwood had Gilead’s wives intone during their weird birthing rituals, Breathe … breathe … just nine and a half more months to go!