New Brunswick

New Brunswick scores shout-out in new Margaret Atwood bestseller

It was past midnight, and Saint Johner Karen McLean was burning through The Testaments — Margaret Atwood's hotly-anticipated sequel to The Handmaid's Tale.  Spoiler alert.

Charlotte County plays a role in The Testaments, which picks up 15 years after The Handmaid's Tale ends

The Testaments is the much-anticipated sequel to the Handmaid's Tale, now a TV series starring Elisabeth Moss. Campobello Island, right, plays a pivotal role in the final chapter. ( George Kraychyk / Hulu / Julia Wright / CBC)

It was past midnight, and Saint Johner Karen McLean was burning through The Testaments — Margaret Atwood's hotly anticipated sequel to The Handmaid's Tale. 

She was shocked to find the setting of the final chapter strikingly familiar. 

"I started recognizing place names," she said. "I saw the words Bay of Fundy. I was like, 'Yes! This is local!'"

Midway through the final chapter, she "literally fist-pumped the air."

Saint John writer and educator Karen McLean 'literally fist-pumped the air' when she realized the new Margaret Atwood bestseller she was reading is partially set in New Brunswick. (Julia Wright / CBC)

"The very end takes place on Campobello Island," McLean said. "Campobello is where two of the main characters wind up at the end of the book."

Without revealing too much, the writer and educator said the island, which is part of Charlotte County and connected by bridge to Lubec, Maine, is portrayed in a "positive" way. 

"Atwood is world-renowned," said McLean. "To have our little corner of the world featured so positively, and so prominently, in such a blockbuster is exceptional."

The Testaments, like The Handmaid's Tale, is slated to be adapted for television by the streaming giant Hulu. (McClelland & Stewart)

"It's really exciting."

It's a big shout-out for a little island, which has a permanent population of just 850. 

The Testaments made headlines earlier this month, when Amazon inadvertently leaked several hundred copies before its Sept.10 release date. 

The novel has topped both Amazon's U.S. and Canadian bestseller lists, been short-listed for the U.K.'s Man Booker Prize, and long-listed for the Giller Prize.

Campobello Island receives shout-out in new Margaret Atwood sequel

2 years ago
Campobello Island in the Bay of Fundy is where Margaret Atwood chose to conclude The Testaments, her highly anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. 0:52

The plot picks up 15 years after the end of The Handmaid's Tale — Atwood's 1985 sci-fi novel set in the dystopian Republic of Gilead. 

It's a "lighter read" than The Handmaid's Tale, according to McLean, narrated by three different women: Aunt Lydia, a main character from The Handmaid's Tale, Agnes, a young woman in Gilead, and a young Canadian woman named Daisy. 

Kate Johnston, manager of marketing and visitor services at Roosevelt Campobello International Park, which preserves the summer home of late U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family, called the literary salute "pretty cool."

Atwood, pictured at a press conference to promote The Testaments, 'has been pretty upfront about the fact that [her novels] are inspired by the events that have been happening in the United States,' said Kate Johnston, manager of marketing and visitor services at Roosevelt Campobello International Park. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

While she hasn't yet read the new book, "I have read The Handmaid's Tale," she said.

"Margaret Atwood has been pretty upfront about the fact that she is inspired by the events that have been happening in the United States."

"Campobello is such an interesting place — so Canadian, but at the same time it has such a tie to the United States."

McLean said that in the context of the plot, Campobello Island is the "perfect" setting for the novel's conclusion. 

An image released by Hulu shows Emmy Award-winning Elisabeth Moss as Offred in a scene from The Handmaid's Tale. (Hulu)

"It's definitely going to add awareness of our wonderful area," she said, adding that she's planning her first visit to Campobello Island after reading the book. 

Perhaps most exciting for fans of the hit TV series based on The Handmaid's Tale is that The Testaments is also being adapted into a television drama. 

No word on whether the conclusion will be shot on Campobello, which seems to be having a bit of a media moment right now. On Tuesday, the Island was featured on the CBC show Still Standing with comedian Jonny Harris.

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge, which connects Campobello with Lubec, Maine, also plays a role in the conclusion of Atwood's new novel. You'll have to read the novel to find out exactly what that role is. (Julia Wright / CBC)

"I hope that anyone who enjoys The Handmaid's Tale or The Testaments will want to come and see Campobello," Johnston said.

"It obviously plays a big role in the Roosevelt history — and a big role in the history of international relations."


Julia Wright

Host, Information Morning Saint John

Julia Wright is a born-and-raised Saint Johner, reporter, photographer, and the host of Information Morning Saint John on 91.3FM. She has been with the CBC since 2016.


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