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'The Testaments': Margaret Atwood's sequel to 'The Handmaid's Tale' hits the bookshelves

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'The Testaments': Margaret Atwood's sequel to 'The Handmaid's Tale' hits the bookshelves
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"Handmaids" decorated in iconic red cloaks and white headpieces marched through London ahead of the launch of Margaret's Atwood's new book "The Testaments".

The Canadian author's sequel to her best-selling 1985 dystopian novel "The Handmaid's Tale" has already been shortlisted for one of the literary world's most prestigious awards, the Booker Prize.

Judges' chairman Peter Florence praised it as "a savage and beautiful novel that speaks to us today with conviction and power".

"The Testaments" was released by McClelland & Stewart on Tuesday and Atwood attended the launch to give a midnight reading of the novel.

Atwood prompted excitement and speculation when she announced last November that she was working on "The Testaments", set 15 years after the ambiguous ending of The Handmaid's Tale" in the fictional totalitarian state of Gilead.

"Everything you've ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book," she has said.

"The other inspiration is the world we've been living in."

The publishers maintained a tight ring of security, with reviewers sent copies with a fake title and cover, but the secrecy around the book's plot was breached after Amazon accidentally sent out a number of pre-ordered copies.

Reviews have been mixed. Many praised it as fast-paced and dramatic, but some have argued it lacks the depth of the original novel.

"The Handmaid's Tale" has long been hailed as a touchstone for feminist campaigners, with Atwood saying that all the acts of repression in the book were based on real-life events.

It has shot back up the bestseller lists after being made into a popular, award-winning television series starring actor Elisabeth Moss.

WATCH: Sinéad Crowley, who's arts and media correspondent at RTÉ news explains why Atwoods 1985 account of a totalitarian future is such a huge cultural event: