Margaret Atwood's The Testaments is this year's most anticipated novel, its contents kept strictly under lock and key – that is, until Amazon mistakenly sent out hundreds of copies of the novel days in advance of the official publication date.
The long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid's Tale is due to be published on September 10, but it is understood that about 800 copies were shipped out to customers by Amazon.
A statement by publishers Penguin Random House confirmed that situation, but explained “it has now been rectified”.
"We appreciate that readers have been waiting patiently, in some cases for more than 30 years, for the much-anticipated sequel to the bestselling The Handmaid's Tale," the statement reads. "In order to ensure our readers around the world receive their copies on the same day, our global publication date remains Tuesday, September 10."
A number of independent booksellers have expressed frustration that the embargo that they signed has been broken by Amazon.
Australian bookseller Jon Page tweeted: “When the big retailer gets so big they no longer give a [expletive]. Interested to see what PRH [Penguin Random House] does now.”
Rachel Cass of Harvard Bookstore in Massachusetts told Publishers Weekly that the leak by Amazon “makes us look bad”.
“This is bigger than just this book,” she said. “Customers will see that people who ordered online got their books. They will come into our store and see that we don’t have it yet.
"They won’t know or care about embargoes; they will just see that Amazon can supply them a book and we can’t. They might not come in next time.”
Atwood's sequel, which has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, arrives more than three decades after the original was published in 1985. News that The Testaments, which is set 15 years after the final scenes in The Handmaid's Tale, is out in the public domain has lead a number of newspapers to publish early reviews and extracts of the novel.
The New York Times described it as "fleet-footed", while The Guardian called it "a success that more than justifies [its] Booker prize shortlisting".
'The Testaments': a review round up
“True to her mandate, Atwood has given us a blockbuster of propulsive, almost breathless narrative, stacked with twists and turns worthy of a Gothic novel. Its characters are as lurid and schematic as its clever front-cover image (a woman in a bonnet in neon green), but, like the jacket picture too, impressive in their gestural efficiency.”
"In the almost 35 years since Margaret Atwood published The Handmaid's Tale, its vision of a totalitarian theocracy underpinned by the rigid control of women and their reproductive systems has not receded; in many places – including the far-right consciousness – it may be said to have flourished.
"What can the novelist make of this? In the case of both Edna O'Brien, whose novel Girl depicts the lives of those girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, and Margaret Atwood, who has returned to Gilead to convey what happened after she had apparently finished Offred's story, the answer seems to have been clear: confront the new realities head on, and don't look back."
The New York Times
"In both The Handmaid's Tale and The Testaments, Atwood wisely focuses less on the viciousness of the Gilead regime (though there is one harrowing and effective sequence about its use of emotional manipulation to win over early converts to its cause), and more on how temperament and past experiences shape individual characters' very different responses to these dire circumstances."
"The Testaments builds in tension, morphing into a fraught tale of subterfuge and spycraft as it toggles between the three narratives, teasing how they might eventually intersect and why."
Los Angeles Times
"In The Testaments, Margaret Atwood's powers are on full display.
"Fierce battles over abortion rights, Planned Parenthood and women’s bodies are juxtaposed with a recent Kardashian family birthday party, Handmaid-themed.
"Everyone should read The Testaments, and consider the true desires of human nature."
"The Testaments also takes place in Gilead, Atwood's famous dystopia, 17 years after the events of The Handmaid's Tale — but it's not at all nightmarish. It contains very little of that claustrophobic dread that Atwood is so good at conjuring up.
"Instead, The Testaments is a hopeful book. It's escapist. It's a thriller. It's a bit of a joyride."
"Is a post-Gilead society possible? If there is, the book seems to be saying, maybe there’s hope for us too, now."