Margaret Atwood's The Testaments gets early release — by accident

Margaret Atwood's highly anticipated novel The Testaments, a sequel to her 1985 bestseller The Handmaid's Tale, was shipped out to some U.S. Amazon customers a week early by mistake.

Amazon U.S. was behind the blunder after booksellers signed a strict embargo agreement

Some customers in the U.S. got a copy of The Testaments, by Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood, early despite a strict embargo until the release date of Sept. 10. (McClelland & Stewart)

It's been shrouded in secrecy for months. Bookstore owners even had to sign an embargo agreement to keep it locked in a secure place until release.

Despite these protective measures, Margaret Atwood's highly anticipated novel The Testaments, a sequel to her 1985 bestseller The Handmaid's Tale, was shipped out to some customers a week early by mistake.

"I feel really bad because they've tried so hard to keep it under wraps," Jenny Klein, of McHenry, Illinois, said in a phone interview. "But I'm also super excited."

Klein was one of many posting on social media about receiving the novel well before the scheduled release date of Sept. 10.

"Did anybody else get the new @MargaretAtwood book The Testaments sent to them a week early?" New York blogger Jason Adams posted on Twitter Tuesday along with a photo of the hardcover book. "I feel like I won the lottery!"

Amazon U.S. was the culprit, according to numerous social media users who posted their delivery notices online. The online conglomerate, which was taking pre-orders for the book, blamed a "technical error" in a statement to CBC News as the reason for the item being shipped early to some customers.

"We value our relationship with authors, agents, and publishers, and regret the difficulties this has caused them and our fellow booksellers," the statement said.

It happened despite a strict contract between the publisher and booksellers.

Mistake hurts independent stores

"I was about as angry as I get," Josh Cook, who co-owns the independently run Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., said in a phone interview. "This was a book that came with a contract that we had to sign that stipulated that we wouldn't share it, sell it, that we'd face some sort of punishment if we did.

"And then there it was — that embargo being broken."

Jenny Klein, of McHenry, Illinois, was among the Amazon customers in the U.S. who received a copy of the book early by mistake. (Jenny Klein)

According to the contract, which CBC News has seen, breaking the embargo could result in future book supplies being withheld from the offending bookseller or even a legal injunction against it.

"You must ensure that the book is stored in a monitored and locked, secured area and not placed on the selling floor prior to the on-sale date," the agreement states in part, also specifying there could be spot checks and audits to ensure compliance.

Cook says he believes it's unlikely Amazon will face any repercussions, given its size. But like other independent booksellers complaining on social media, Cook says the move further undercuts them and appears to customers as though Amazon simply got it first.

Don't worry. I'm not going to spoil it for anyone else.​- Jenny Klein, Amazon customer who received The Testaments early

It's unclear how many people in total received the book early but estimates are in the hundreds. Penguin Random House, which published The Testaments, confirmed the "retailer error" and said the situation has been "rectified." The publisher also says the global release date will remain the same — next Tuesday — despite the gaffe.

The new novel is set 15 years after the final scene in the dystopian thriller The Handmaid's Tale, which won a Governor General's Literary Award when it was published more than 30 years ago and was turned into a hit TV series by streaming service Hulu.

The New York Times's book review described The Testaments as "a fast, immersive narrative that's as propulsive as it is melodramatic."

Atwood's latest book, which is set to be adapted on screen, is already a finalist for the U.K.'s Man Booker Prize and made the long list for Canada's Giller Prize. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/The Associated Press)

Screen adaptation in the works

A screen adaptation of The Testaments is also in the works, according to Time magazine. Hulu and MGM will develop the new story with Bruce Miller, creator and showrunner of The Handmaid's Tale TV series. 

The Testaments is already a finalist for the U.K.'s Man Booker Prize and made the long list for Canada's Giller Prize. 

Klein, who wasn't expecting the new book for another week and is still trying to finish The Handmaid's Tale, says she feels a little guilt about being one of the few to get it early and says she won't give anything away to those still eagerly waiting.

"Don't worry," she said. "I'm not going to spoil it for anyone else."

About the Author

Zulekha Nathoo

Digital/Broadcast reporter, L.A.

Zulekha Nathoo is a breaking news and entertainment reporter based in Los Angeles. From the Oscars to the Grammys, she's interviewed some of the biggest names in showbiz including Celine Dion and Denzel Washington. She also works on-air covering news events and spent more than a decade at CBC stations across Canada, including Toronto and Calgary. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram: @zulekhanathoo.

With files from The Canadian Press


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.