Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood is one of my all-time favourite authors; my love affair beginning way back in my sixth form English Literature class where we studied The Handmaid’s Tale (one of her more famous works, adapted as a film in 1990 and soon to be a 10-episode TV series on streaming service Hulu). This chilling dystopian vision so beautifully written led me to read her other books, and I still make it a point to read any new material of hers to this day. Therefore it was a lovely surprise on Christmas Day to receive Hag-Seed as a present from my boyfriend, who is well aware of my fondness for the Canadian author.
Hag-Seed presents itself as a modern re-telling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest – I do very much enjoy the Bard’s works as well (again, this stems from studying many of his plays at school). This isn’t the first time Atwood has attempted her own spin on a classic – she also previously wrote The Penelopiad, which was a re-telling of Homer’s Odyssey, only this time from told from the perspective of Odysseus’s wife Penelope. This provided a humorous take on the classic tale, but also allowed for a more modern examination of the role of gender within society, and was an entertaining read all round. Therefore I was looking forward to reading Atwood’s take on Shakespeare, and I was certainly not disappointed.
The book tells the story of Felix, a big name in theatre whose world comes crashing down when he is forcibly removed from his own production of The Tempest. After years of stewing in solitude and thoughts of revenge, he ends up teaching a theatre course to inmates at the local prison, and sees the chance to finally put on the play that he has so desperately wanted to all these years, but also plots to use it as a tool of revenge against those who betrayed him. The novel of course has Atwood’s familar brand of witty cynicism in its overall tone, but is also a very touching story, with the reader rooting for Felix and the prisoners all the way through, with the struggles they face in putting the production together. The differing intepretations of the plot and characters among the inmates is very interesting as well, and it is an intriguing idea to see things from their point of view, given the sort of lives they have led to end up imprisoned in the first place. As well as the play itself, once fully realised, providing a humourous execution of Felix’s long-plotted vengeance, Atwood has also very cleverly made Felix’s story and the plot itself a subtle re-telling of The Tempest as well. This means it can be a satisfying read for those already familar with the original play, or be a springboard to perhaps encourage a reader to investigate Shakespeare for themselves, as well as being a gripping read in its own right.
I laughed, I almost cried as I read through this fantastic book, and would highly recommend it to fans of Atwood and Shakespeare alike, but should also prove a worthwhile read even to those not completely familar with either.
A 5/5 from me!
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