Leaks take shine off long-awaited sequel to 'Handmaid's Tale'

You’ve probably heard the “publishing sensation of the summer” line about several different books many times by now. Still, the release of Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Testaments’ really, really is 2019’s literary event of the year.

It is a sequel that has been anticipated for almost 35 years, following the release of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ in 1985. Yet a recent screen adaptation of the dystopian novel, coupled with a dubious chain of social and political events, saw the novel injected with a white-hot relevance.

After Offred’s fate hung in the balance at the end of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, a swathe of readers were champing at the bit to see what became of her, her fellow handmaids, her children, and the various other Marthas, Wives, and Aunts of Gilead.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has spoken to a raft of new readers, most of them not born when the book was released 34 years ago, because it is an astonishingly prescient feminist clarion call.

Recently, the third season aired on RTÉ, concluding with a shocking climax.

Atwood was drafted in to preside over the Hulu series, ostensibly to ensure that her Gilead creations didn’t veer too far off-piste.

Even reviewers have felt the effect of the highly anticipated book release. Proofs are being couriered out to Irish journalists today ahead of Tuesday’s official release, meaning those reviewing the book have four days to devour 419 pages and deliver their verdict.

Clearly, publisher Penguin Random House didn’t want to risk any rogue copies making their way out in the wider world.

Retailers too had been instructed in strong terms to keep their copies strictly under wraps until September 10. One New York bookshop owner tweeted that she had to sign an agreement promising that copies of the book would be “stored in a monitored and locked, secured area and not placed on the selling floor prior to the on-sale date”.

Now, the build-up has been blown apart by a “retailer error”. A few lucky fans – thought to be around 80 according to a ‘Guardian’ report – who had pre-ordered the book on Amazon and were sitting on their hands until Tuesday found that their copy of ‘The Testaments’ had been delivered a week early.

Amazon said “a technical error” had caused some US customers to be “inadvertently sent copies”.

Yet it isn’t their first rule-breaking rodeo: in November 2018, the retail giant accidentally streamed an episode of ‘Doctor Who’ before millions of TV viewers had a chance to watch it.

It’s a blessed stroke of fortune for online shoppers, but bricks and mortar shop owners are less than impressed at the ‘leak’.

Many of them are rightly frustrated at the message that this conveys: that online shoppers can apparently get their books before everyone else.

“We are angry and frustrated by it,” noted Bob Johnson, owner of the Gutter Bookshop in Temple Bar, Dublin.

“The whole idea of the embargo is to build excitement and hopefully stimulate sales for the book.

“It’s also to offer a level playing field [for retailers].

“Readers can of course get the book from whomever they want, but it’s frustrating that Amazon, who do have market dominance, do something like this.

“Embargos only ever exist for maybe one or two books a year, and there’s no reason why this should have happened.

“Amazon said it’s a mistake and we have to believe them.

“On top of that, we live in a world where spoilers are a really big deal and people have looked forward to this book for such a long time that when there’s an idea that other people already have the book in their hands and they don’t, it doesn’t feel fair.”

He has a point: the Amazon ‘leak’ is akin to someone leaking the finale of the last series of ‘Game Of Thrones’.

Mr Johnson believes that sales will still be hugely strong, but the Amazon kerfuffle has taken some of the shine off next Tuesday’s momentous release.

“I think the excitement and enthusiasm will be slightly overshadowed by this feeling of having missed out slightly,” he notes.

Those who can barely wait a second longer, meanwhile, will have noted a raft of spoilers already finding their way online. What we do know so far – and please, please look away now if you’re spoiler-averse – is that ‘The Testaments’ revisits Aunt Lydia, Offred, and two young women, Daisy and Agnes.

One, adopted into the Gilead regime for most of her life, appears to have a hazy memory of running “through a forest with someone holding my hand” (sound familiar?).

Atwood too has offered a tantalising statement about the book.

“Dear readers,” says a statement. “Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything!”

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