Hag-Seed - Margaret Atwood
What he couldn't have in life he might still catch sight of through his art: just a glimpse, from the corner of his eye
I recently finished reading "The Handmaidens Tale", I enjoyed it so much that I decided to read Hag-Seed whilst eagerly awaiting the release of "The Testaments".
Without trying to give too many spoilers away Hag-Seed is Atwood's retelling of Shakespeare's - The Tempest. Felix is a director of a theatre festival who is betrayed and loses his position there just as he is about to present his best play yet; a reenactment of The Tempest, Felix then relocates and takes a job teaching English in a prison. Felix teaches the prisoners by having them re-enact Shakespeare's play, when realise those who betrayed him at the theatre festival will be visiting the prison he plans the ultimate revenge by having the prisoners re-enact The Tempest. Felix is also grieving the loss of young daughter.
The majority of the stories is centred around Felix and the prisoners creating their interpretation of the play, the prisoner all have endearing nicknames and Atwood really brings the characters to life as though they were in the room with you. The prisoners rewrite parts of the script to make them more contemporary and for me some of the best pages of the books were where they had changed aspects of The Tempest from lengthy monologues into hip hop raps. At the end of Hag-Seed the prisoners and Anne-Marie (who Felix has drafted in to play Miranda) imagine, envision and feedback to the group what they thought would happen after the plays ending. This is absolutely fascinating and was my favourite part of the book.
Anne-Marie is the main female character in the novel (apart from Felix's dead daughter), the young actor/dancer is drafted in as the males do not want to play Miranda however she becomes a pivotal part of the prison class community drawing the more vulnerable and emotional side out of the men, she also helps Felix to put his own ego and selfishness aside when needed.
Fool, he tells himself. She’s not here. She was never here. It was imagination and wishful thinking, nothing but that. Resign yourself. He can’t resign himself
Although Hag-Seed is a more contemporary re-telling of The Tempest, a subsequent theme running throughout is Felix's grief of his daughter Miranda. Felix appears to be haunted by the ghost of Miranda and struggling to accept her death and move forward. It seems part of Felix's desire to create the best version of The Tempest yet is to honour his daughter Miranda as well as settling the score with his enemies. Through Felix's grief we are able to see the future he would have envisioned for Miranda, his love for her and how this aids his isolation. As the story develops we are taken on his journey of grief and the scenes where he is imagining her with him and then when he is beginning to let go of her moved me to tears.
Although the book market seems to be littered with retelling's of The Bard's plays and readers may now be reluctant to pick up another one, I would highly recommend giving this one ago. Not only does Atwood manage to turn The Tempest into a contemporary story but her skilful storytelling, humour and imagination make this an exciting and immersive novel.