The Booker Prize 2019

MARGARET ATWOOD. In the electrifying sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, Margaret Atwood answers the question that has tantalised readers for decades: What happened to Offred? When the van door slammed on Offred’s future at the end of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, readers had no way of telling what lay ahead. With ‘The Testaments’, the wait is over. Margaret Atwood’s sequel picks up the story 15 years after Offred stepped into the unknown, with the explosive testaments of three female narrators from Gilead, including the dreaded Aunt Lydia. (Photo by L.J. May S/S)


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In September 2019, the shortlist for the 2019 BOOKER PRIZE was announced in the UK. The £50,000 prize holds the reputation of being the most prestigious literary award in the English-speaking world. Past winners include Hilary Mantel, Julian Barnes and Richard Flanagan. Other big nominees include Salman Rushdie, Jeanette Winterson, Deborah Levy, and Max Porter.

The winner(s) were announced at a ceremony in London on 14 October 2019. The 2019 Booker Prize was jointly awarded to two authors for the first time since 1992. Citing an inability to separate the two works, the judging panel broke the rules and awarded the prize to both MARGARET ATWOOD for The Testaments and BERNARDINE EVARISTO for Girl, Woman, Other. Margaret and Bernardine will share the £50,000 prize money equally.


The Testaments

The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, picks up the story 15 years after Offred stepped into the unknown, and includes the explosive testaments of three female narrators from Gilead. 

Transcript of Witness Testimony 369A

‘You have asked me to tell you what it was like for me when I was growing up within Gilead. You say it will be helpful, and I do wish to be helpful. I imagine you expect nothing but horrors, but the reality is that many children were loved and cherished, in Gilead as elsewhere, and many adults were kind though fallible, in Gilead as elsewhere…

‘I agree with you that Gilead ought to fade away – there is too much of wrong in it, too much that is false, and too much that is surely contrary to what God intended – but you must permit me some space to mourn the good that will be lost.’ (Who is She?)

The Ardua Hall Holograph

‘How will I end? I wondered. Will I live to a gently neglected old age, ossifying by degrees? Will I become my own honoured statue? Or will the regime and I both topple, and my stone replica along with me be dragged away and sold off as a curiosity, a lawn ornament, a chunk of gruesome kitsch?

‘Or will I be put on trial as a monster, then executed by firing squad and dangled from a lamppost for public viewing? Will I be torn apart by a mob and have my head stuck on a pole and paraded through the streets to merriment and jeers? I have inspired sufficient rage for that. Right now I still have some choice in the matter. Not whether to die, but when and how. Isn’t that freedom of a sort? Oh, and who to take down with me. I have made my list.’ (Who is this?)

Transcript of Witness Testimony 369B

‘I’d made it into Gilead. I’d thought I knew a lot about it, but living a thing is different and with Gilead it was very different. Gilead was slippery, like walking on ice: I felt off balance all the time. I couldn’t read people’s faces, and I often didn’t know what they were saying. I could hear the words, I could understand the words themselves, but I couldn’t translate them into meaning…

‘Then there was an all-night vigil for the new Pearls: we were supposed to be doing silent meditation while kneeling. Nobody had told me about this: What were the rules? Did you put up your hand to go to the bathroom? In case you’re wondering, the answer was yes.

‘After hours of this – my legs were really cramping – one of the new Pearls, from Mexico I think, began crying hysterically and then yelling. Two aunts picked her up and marched her out. I heard later that they’d turned her into a Handmaid, so it was a good thing I’d kept my mouth shut.’ (Who is this witness, what is she doing in Gilead, and will she survive it?)

Speaking about her new book, Margaret Atwood said:

‘Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in…

‘Our time together is about to begin, my reader. Possibly you will view these pages of mine as a fragile treasure box, to be opened with the utmost care. Possibly you will tear them apart, or burn them: that often happens with words.

‘You hold in your hands a dangerous weapon loaded with the secrets of three women from Gilead. They are risking their lives for you. For all of us. Before you enter their world, you might want to arm yourself with these thoughts: “Knowledge is power”and “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”’

Peter Florence, chair of the 2019 judging panel, said: ‘It does massively more than follow the single story that we had from Offred. This is beautiful in its depth and exploration of the world of Gilead. As she has said, it might have looked like science fiction back in the day, although all of the extremities are rooted in fact. Now it looks more politically urgent than ever before.’

Girl, Woman, Other 

Girl, Woman, Other is described as a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood. It follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters, Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their brilliant lives; their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years. 

Vibrantly contemporary, this is a new kind of history and a novel of our times, celebratory, dynamic and irresistible. ‘A warm, humorous and ambitious novel, and one that is enjoyably playful in style. It is both a product of its time and unlike any book ever written about Britain,’ said the Economist. Bernardine Evaristo is the first black woman to win the prize.

Judge Peter Florence said, ‘There are stories there of people who haven’t been visibly represented in contemporary literature, and in that sense this book is groundbreaking, and I hope encouraging and inspiring to the rest of the publishing industry.’


Margaret Atwood

MARGARET ATWOOD was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from VictoriaCollege at the University of Toronto and her master's degree from RadcliffeCollege. In addition to writing, Margaret has worked as a cartoonist, illustrator, librettist, playwright and puppeteer. She currently lives in Toronto, Canada.

Margaret is the award-winning author of more than fifty books of fiction, poetry and critical essays. Her 1985 classic, The Handmaid’s Tale, went back into the bestseller charts with the election of Donald Trump, when the Handmaids became a symbol of resistance against the disempowerment of women, and again with the 2017 release of the award-winning Channel 4 TV series.

Margaret has won numerous awards, including the 2000 Booker Prize for The Blind Assassin, the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Imagination in Service to Society, the Franz Kafka Prize, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, and the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2019, Margaret was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour for service to literature.

Visit Margaret’s website at for more about her life and work. You can also view a short video and read the transcript of Margaret Atwood’s interview with Leigh Sales on the 7.30 program at the ABC website

Bernardine Evaristo

British author BERNARDINE EVARISTO (MBE FRSL FRSAFEA) was born In Eltham, south-east London and raised in Woolwich. She is the fourth of eight children of a white English mother, who worked as a schoolteacher, and a Nigerian father who migrated to Britain in 1949 and became a welder and local Labour councillor.

In addition to her eight works of fiction, Bernardine’s writing includes essays, literary criticism, short fiction, drama, poetry, and projects for stage and radio. Her books The Emperor’s Babe and Hello Mum have both been adapted into BBC Radio 4 dramas. She is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London and the vice-chair of the Royal Society of Literature.

In the 1980s, Bernardine founded Britain’s first black women’s theatre company, and is a longstanding advocate for writers and artists of colour. She organised Britain’s first major black theatre conference, Future histories, for the Black Theatre Forum in 1995 in the Royal Festival Hall, and Britain’s first major conference on black British writing, Tracing Paper, in 1997 at the Museum of London.

Bernardine Evaristo spoke to the New Statesman about her career, power, racism, her wild eighties days, and the state of modern fiction, three days after she became the first black woman to win the prize: ‘We are pretty invisible in fiction,’ she said. Check out the interview at


Go to YouTube and see a video of the 2019 Booker Prize winners Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo discussing the state of the world at

In Brisbane, you will be able to see Margaret Atwood at the Concert Hall on Saturday, 22 February 2020. To be the first to know when tickets go on presale, sign up to the waitlist at



Nooooo! He said he was going to do it in 2010. He promised interviewer Kerry O’Brien he was going to do it in 2013 (after apologising for still being there) – but now he’s actually gone and done it. CLIVE JAMES finally passed away at his home in Cambridge on Sunday 24 November 2019. Our favourite Aussie ex pat was an author, poet, journalist, source of a thousand anecdotes, host of British talk shows, and presenter of the illuminating and often hilarious ‘Postcard’ series, which saw him travel to cities around the world to give them the Clive treatment. Although Clive said he didn’t believe in an afterlife, we wouldn’t be at all surprised if his tombstone/plaque read, ‘See, I told you I was going!’ Sniffle. See the News on the home page for more. (Photo by L.J. May S/S)