Why Margaret Atwood Said 'No' To A 'Handmaid's Tale' Sequel — Until Now

The Testaments Margaret Atwood has written a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale — that sentence alone will move millions of readers to buy the book ASAP. The final act of that book, published in 1985, saw its unnamed heroine Offred (at least, that wasn’t her real name), step off the pages and into the unknown. The new book is The Testaments , and it returns us, 15 years later, to the fictional totalitarian theocracy of Gilead, with its Handmaids, Marthas, Wives, Commanders and Aunts. Atwood says it just seemed like the time for a sequel. “People had been asking me to write a sequel for a long time, and I always said no, because I thought they meant the continuation of the story of Offred which I couldn’t do,” she says. “But then I thought, what if somebody else were telling the story? And what if it were 15 or 16 years later? And it was also time, because for a while we thought we were moving away from The Handmaid’s Tale . And then we turned around and started going back toward it, ominously close in many parts of the world. And I felt it was possibly time to revisit the question of, how do regimes like Gilead end? Because we know from The Handmaid’s Tale that it did end.” On the three narrators of the new novel Two of them are young, and not unrelated to Offred. And one of them has grown up inside Gilead, and the other one has grown up outside Gilead. And the third one is someone that we have already seen, but we have only seen her in The Handmaid’s Tale from outside, that is through the eyes of Offred herself — and that would be Aunt Lydia, the head of the Aunts’ contingent in Gilead. The other question that interested me, reading back through the history of totalitarian regimes was, how did the people who get into the higher positions in such regimes, how did they get there? What has motivated them? Are they true believers in whatever the totalitarianism is flogging? Are they opportunists who hope to profit by it? Or are they there out of fear, as people were a lot under Stalin — “If I don’t rise in the organization and annihilate my rivals, they will annihilate me.” So, what are the motivations of such people? On why she calls her work speculative fiction rather than science fiction There are two strands of this kind of future story, and one is descended from Jules Verne who wrote about things that he thought were really going to happen — such as submarines. And the other was H.G. Wells who wrote about Martians invading the earth in very large canister. And when Jules Verne read that he said … “but he made things up!” So he felt he was writing about a future that could really happen, like pretty soon. And he felt H.G. Wells was writing about something quite […]

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