When The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985, it ended on an ambiguous note, as Offred was carried away from her household in the Eyes’ van, to a destination unknown: “into the darkness,” she ponders, “or else the light.” Now, Margaret Atwood is finally answering the question of what happened to the eponymous Handmaid, in a sequel titled The Testaments, which will be published in September 2019.
The Testaments is set 15 years after the final scene of Offred’s story (not the epilogue, which takes place hundreds of years later) and will be narrated by three female characters. That’s all we know from the official announcement from Penguin UK, though Atwood includes a message for readers:
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.
She tweeted the same sentiment:
Yes indeed to those who asked: I’m writing a sequel to The #HandmaidsTale. #TheTestaments is set 15 years after Offred’s final scene and is narrated by three female characters. It will be published in Sept 2019. More details: https://t.co/e1umh5FwpX pic.twitter.com/pePp0zpuif
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) November 28, 2018
Interestingly, The Handmaid’s Tale television series has already gone off-book, with the second season exploring whether Offred moves into the darkness or light. It will be interesting to see the third season diverge further from Atwood’s continuation.
But for now, the most important question is, who will these female characters be? I’m going to guess Hannah, Offred/June’s daughter—though neither she nor Offred are officially named in the book, so she might have a different name here. Fifteen years later, she would be in adulthood, possibly a Handmaid herself if Gilead has continued on, or perhaps free like her mother always hoped.
I’ve always been fond of the book’s “Historical Notes” epilogue, which takes place at the Twelfth Symposium for Gileadean Studies in 2195. While this is obviously generations away from when The Testament is set, it would be interesting to see a forebear of Professor Maryann Crescent Moon examining Gilead from an academic perspective. The extended epilogue released in 2017 had Professor James Darcy Pieixoto answering audience questions at the symposium, with him concluding that “I hope to be able to present the results of our further Gileadean investigations to you at some future date.”
Who do you think will narrate the book?
The Testaments will be available September 10, 2019 from Nan A. Talese (an imprint of Knopf Doubleday).