Canadians ring in release of Atwood's much-hyped 'Handmaid's Tale' sequel

TORONTO — Canadian readers have long wondered about the inner workings of the dystopian world in "The Handmaid's Tale" — and now they're getting their answers.

Copies of Margaret Atwood's "The Testaments" were flying off the shelves within minutes after Indigo's midtown Toronto location opened its doors Tuesday morning.

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Among those first in line was Indigo CEO Heather Reisman, who even before reading the sequel, had anointed it her pick of the month.

Reisman said she turned down an offer to get a sneak peek at the book so she could join other Canadians in celebrating the homegrown author's moment in the global spotlight.

"We're excited about the book, and we're even more excited to be able to claim (Atwood) as ours," said Reisman.

"She is ambitious in a way that allows her to be on the world stage, and I think that's how we want to think of Canadians."

Stacks of the book, jacketed with the silhouette of a handmaid clad in a green cloak, were strewn throughout the store. Even more pre-ordered copies were stowed away in boxes behind the checkout counter.

"Someone came in for a book not by Atwood," one employee joked. "Do we even have any of those?"

Fearing the much-hyped sequel would sell out, 47-year-old Rob Small rushed to the store to pick one off the shelves.

Small, who works at a rehabilitation clinic, said some of his clients were so eager to crack open a copy of "The Testaments," they were planning to camp outside of bookstores.

"It's so good to see, considering what's going on in the world, a female Canadian writer that's up in the forefront," said Small. "It makes me proud to be Canadian."

"The Testaments" was the number-one bestseller on Amazon.ca on Tuesday, with its 1985 predecessor ranking among the top 10.

Hannah Skinner, 28, said she felt "relieved" to finally have the novel in her hands as she picked up her pre-ordered copy at Indigo. Skinner said she'd been avoiding social media for fear of having the story spoiled by some Amazon customers who received early copies.

Penguin Random House said a small number of copies of the tightly guarded book were distributed last week due to a "retailer error" that was later rectified. None of the early copies were shipped in Canada.

Meanwhile, independent bookstores in Canada are ordering more shipments of "The Testaments" in order to keep up with demand.

Neil Terry, who works at Bookmark in Halifax, said the store's 36 copies sold out before noon on Tuesday, estimating that he's had to turn 10 to 15 customers away.

"Something like this is great, so long as we're a part of the wave," he said.

In Victoria, "The Testaments" became the bestseller at Munro's Books within its first hour on the shelves, said managing partner Jessica Walker.

The bookstore already has thousands of copies in stock for when it hosts Atwood later this month on her 10-stop Canadian tour, but Walker said she put in rush orders for more to be safe.

"One of the great things about authors like Atwood and her customers — a lot of people, it gives them a chance to have their connection with their local bookseller," she said.

"It helps make it a bit more of an event as opposed to a package arriving in your mailbox."

While Atwood was ringing in the book's launch in London, England, some Canadians booked tickets to see the event on the big screen Tuesday evening.

Atwood's celebrity-studded evening gala taped in London was set to be broadcast to 1,300 movie theatres around the world. That includes 80 Cineplex theatres across Canada, some of which sold out before the screening, according to a spokeswoman.

Since its publication 34 years ago, "The Handmaid's Tale" has become one of Canada's bestselling literary exports.

It has also been adapted into an Emmy Award-winning TV series, and adopted as prophecy by women's rights protesters around the world who don the handmaids' red cloaks and bonnets.

The story is set in the theocratic state of Gilead, which having stripped women of their rights, establishes a class of fertile "handmaids" forced to bear children for the regime's elite commanders.

"The Testaments," published by McClelland & Stewart, is set 15 years after protagonist Offred's final scene and features three narrators.

— with files from Associated Press

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