I’m going to hope that I can graze over the shameful fact that I haven’t written a blog post since before I turned 28, which was over half a year ago, and instead jump right into discussing Margaret Atwood’s latest novel: Hag-Seed.
This novel is a step away from her usual fare. Atwood always has something profound and meaningful to say about the world. Right now, especially, I feel like The Handmaid’s Tale is an incredibly relevant read and everyone should pick it up, read it, and pray that that’s not where our society goes. But I digress. In her moving somewhat away from this trend, this novel fell flat for me. I missed the powerful punch-in-the-face of her typical voice.
“Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His productions have amazed and confounded. Now he’s staging a Tempest like no other: not only will it boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds.
Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. And also brewing revenge.
After twelve years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here, Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It’s magic, but will it remake Felix as his enemies fall?
Margaret Atwood’s novel take on Shakespeare’s play of enchantment, retribution, and second chances leads us on an interactive, illusion-ridden journey filled with new surprises and wonders of its own.” —Indiebound
Hag-Seed is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, which showcases the talents of various best-selling novelists as they re-imagine the works of Shakespeare. Hag-Seed stars Felix Phillips, a deposed and embittered former theatrical artistic director with fantasies of revenge, and an amusing cast of convicted criminals in the drama of Felix’s vengeance. Most of the novel takes place inside a Canadian prison and follows the events of the original play in amusing and creative ways. At least, I think it does. Here’s the rub: I confess that I have never read or seen The Tempest, so I was going into this somewhat blind. The summary of the play’s events at the back of the novel helped me to find the parallels between the original text and the retelling, and I was impressed by how well Atwood worked them seemlessly into her plot. Also, if you know me personally, please don’t tell Dr. Stayton that I didn’t read The Tempest during our Shakespeare course. It was the last play of the semester and I was done. Shh!
I feel that some of the beauty standard to Shakespeare’s original works is lost due to both the use of modern vernacular and the removal of the setting from an enchanted island inhabited by elemental spirits to a sterile and austere prison environment, but the overall effect is still one that’s highly enjoyable. Felix is distinctly unlikable, but due to the fact that his enemies are even less likable, one cannot help but hope he comes out on top. My favorite part was his eclectic crew of convicts, who should be unpleasant and scary but in a fictional context are lovable. Sadly, perhaps because it’s a short novel and perhaps because it’s based on a play meant for the stage, I felt that it was very difficult to connect to characters and immerse myself in the story.
Ultimately, I felt that my initial feelings of excitement were somewhat let down. It was a good novel with a lot of excellent characters, and excellent bone structure, so to speak. Had it been written by someone else, I think I would have really enjoyed it. Coming from an author by whom I expect to be so profoundly moved and taught something new, it was not nearly what it could have been.
Verdict: Read it, but check it out from the library.