Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood is the best book I've read this year. Loved it! Bounced back and forth from delight to fearful nervous tension and a sinking feeling in my stomach throughout the entire thing. With the exception of Titus Andronicus, I've read all of Shakespeare's plays, and although I've always appreciated the wonderful language and multiple quotable lines in The Tempest, the plot has never been my favorite. Atwood's version has given me much to think about and a completely new appreciation of the play.
Briefly, Felix is a creative and innovative artistic director whose self-importance and experimentation in staging Shakespeare productions has not always been appreciated, and he has more wild ideas for his upcoming production of The Tempest. Immersed in his creative work which helps him deal with the death of his young daughter, Felix has abandoned many of the more boring duties of his position to his assistant Tony.
Ah, but traitorous Tony has taken advantage of Felix's neglect and has plotted his ouster. Not only is Felix abruptly and unceremoniously removed from his directorship, but his Tempest will never be produced.
Felix retires to a shabby, isolated farmhouse where he mourns the loss of his beloved daughter and the loss of a career. And plots revenge.
What I loved: Everything. From the opening prologue that intimates disaster, to the play within the play within the play, to Felix's character development throughout, to the way he approaches teaching Shakespeare to prison inmates, to way the inmates ways of assimilating the universals of the plays, to Miranda's role, to my new appreciation of the original play--just everything!
I have a strange relationship with Atwood's works, some of which have not appealed as much to me as they have to others, although I always find deep pleasure in the way she wields language. My favorite work before reading Hag-Seed was The Penelopiad, which I adored.
Hag-Seed charmed and delighted me, and after finishing, I pulled out my Complete Works and will be settling in to reread The Tempest with a new perspective and pleasure.
This is my favorite work of fiction in years. You don't need to have read The Tempest to love this novel. You don't have to like Shakespeare to enjoy the plot and the characters. Yet you will still come away marveling at the genius of Shakespeare and at Atwood's masterful reinterpretation of the tale.
The Acknowledgements at the end include books and films that Atwood found useful which include Julie Taymor's film of The Tempest with Helen Mirren as Prospera and other films and books that I might be interested in checking out. There is also a section about prison literature that has another list of books that sound fascinating. And more. I have a quite a list of possible further reading and viewing.
rev. sch. for Aug. 4, 2016
Fiction/Shakespeare Retelling. Oct. 11, 2016. Print length: 320 pages.