CanLit community applauds ‘Handmaid’s Tale’

Handmaid's Tale
Bruce Miller, from left, Margaret Atwood, and Elisabeth Moss accept the award for outstanding drama series for "The Handmaid's Tale" at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. The Canadian literary community is celebrating the success of the series "The Handmaid's Tale," which is based on Toronto author Margaret Atwood's 1985 dystopian novel. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Invision, Chris Pizzello

TORONTO – When Margaret Atwood took the stage with the team from “The Handmaid’s Tale” at the end of Sunday’s Emmy Awards, Mike Hamm cheered on the CanLit legend from his Halifax home while the Los Angeles audience gave her a standing ovation.

The manager of Bookmark II bookstore in Halifax is a “huge” fan of the Toronto-based author and has recently seen a spike in sales of Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel that inspired the series that won eight Emmys, including best drama.

“I think we’ll see a definite sales surge with the Emmy win,” Hamm said Monday in a phone interview.

“I’ve been a lifelong fan. I’ve read everything that she’s written. They were thanking her from the stage and I was thinking, ‘Oh, she’s got to be in the audience,’ and it was very nice to see her get up on the stage with them.”

Booksellers say it’s not unusual for an older novel to make such a huge comeback — “The Great Gatsby,” for instance, has surged to the top of bestseller lists with various adaptations — but it doesn’t often happen with a Canadian title.

Many say “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which was on Hulu in the U.S. and is currently streaming on CraveTV after airing on Bravo in Canada, is relevant today because of its added resonance in the Trump era.

With its look at a totalitarian theocracy that makes women property of the state, it speaks to current concerns about women’s rights, although Atwood has been quick to point out that the series was in production well before U.S. President Donald Trump was elected.

“It shows us that books speak far beyond their moment in time,” celebrated Canadian author Madeleine Thien, who won last year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize, said Monday after announcing this year’s long list in St. John’s.

“I feel like ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is so pertinent right now,” added fellow acclaimed Canadian novelist Lisa Moore.

Atwood makes a brief cameo and was a consulting producer on the series, which was shot in Toronto and has been greenlit for a second season.

Indigo Books and Music Inc. and publisher McClelland & Stewart first saw a spike in sales of “The Handmaid’s Tale” book after Trump was elected in November.

“Since then, we’ve seen sales substantially up and it’s been our number one selling fiction title since April,” Krishna Nikhil, Indigo’s executive vice-president of print, said Monday in a statement.

McClelland & Stewart said sales of the book have been “astonishing,” noting it’s shipped over 150,000 copies this year (that includes e-books and the two different print editions).

“It’s been an unbelievably strong title all year and I expect that it will just continue to be selling very strongly as we move toward the second season of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and off the great news of the Emmy win,” said Jared Bland, publisher of McClelland & Stewart.

Hamm said his store also first saw a surge in sales for “The Handmaid’s Tale” after the election, when they responded to readers’ requests for a display of books on totalitarianism.

“If we have a popular book, we’ll reorder it weekly in the single digits. But with a book like this, it’s in the double digits every week,” he said.

“People who have been fans of Atwood all their lives are coming in to buy a copy to re-read it even.”

Sales of the book also took off at Ben McNally Books in Toronto when the series was announced.

“We don’t sell a lot of copies of anything, so for us to sell more than five copies of a book in a week, it’s pretty unusual, and that’s been pretty consistent,” said store founder Ben McNally.

“There are serious women’s rights issues afoot and a bunch of younger people who are really seizing this initiative here.”

The 77-year-old Atwood will remain in the spotlight with the Sept. 25 CBC premiere of “Alias Grace,” an adaptation of her 1996 novel that profiles a convicted Canadian “murderess” and also speaks to how women are treated in society.

“The book is a Heather’s Pick, and sales are already trending up,” said Nikhil.

“We have a very beautiful television tie-in edition of ‘Alias Grace’ that we’ve put in the market and sales have been really strong so far,” said Bland, adding that he expects that trend to continue.