Author Margaret Atwood holds her new novel 'The Testaments.' Reuters
Hundreds of Margaret Atwood fans in Britain and the United States are to queue at midnight for the first chance to buy the sequel to her best-selling dystopian novel "The Handmaid's Tale" - one of the most hotly-anticipated cultural events of the year.
"The Testaments" has already been shortlisted for one of the literary world's most prestigious prizes ahead of its Tuesday launch in London, which is to be screened in 100 cinemas around the world.
In it, Atwood picks up the story from her 1985 account of a totalitarian future - since made into a popular television series - in which fertile women are forced into sexual servitude to repopulate a world facing environmental disaster.
"Publications of this level are few and far between," said Bea Carvalho, fiction buyer at the British Waterstones chain of bookstores, which is hosting a midnight launch party in London where the author will read from her new work.
"This is by far the biggest release of the year and one of the biggest cultural moments altogether," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A number of other book shops in Britain and the United States will also open late for those hoping to get one of the first looks at the novel.
Canadian author 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 secrecy around the book's plot was breached after Amazon accidentally sent out a number of pre-ordered copies.
It was announced last week that it had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, with judges' chairman Peter Florence praising it as "a savage and beautiful novel that speaks to us today with conviction and power".
Reviews have been mixed. Many praised as it 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.
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