Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
Digital Audiobook narrated by R H Thompson
Published by Hogarth Press on October 11, 2016
Series: Hogarth Shakespeare #4
Genres: Contemporary, Fantasy, Fiction, Literary Fiction, Retellings
Length: 301 pages or 8 hours, 11 minutes
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When Felix is deposed as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival by his devious assistant and longtime enemy, his production of The Tempest is canceled and he is heartbroken. Reduced to a life of exile in rural southern Ontario—accompanied only by his fantasy daughter, Miranda, who died twelve years ago—Felix devises a plan for retribution.
Eventually he takes a job teaching Literacy Through Theatre to the prisoners at the nearby Burgess Correctional Institution, and is making a modest success of it when an auspicious star places his enemies within his reach. With the help of their own interpretations, digital effects, and the talents of a professional actress and choreographer, the Burgess Correctional Players prepare to video their Tempest. Not surprisingly, they view Caliban as the character with whom they have the most in common. However, Felix has another twist in mind, and his enemies are about to find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest that will change their lives forever. But how will Felix deal with his invisible Miranda’s decision to take a part in the play?
Hag-Seed has a few different things I like, right off the bat.
- It’s a retelling.
- It’s an uncommon retelling – Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
- It’s a theatre book.
- It’s a revenge book.
- It’s a Margaret Atwood book.
So without even going into the book itself, this was bound to be a winner for me. None of these aspects promise a pure five-star review, but they do promise I won’t be bored. And honestly? I enjoyed Hag-Seed, as a whole.
I think that Margaret Atwood captured the feel of The Tempest so well. There are roundabouts and trickery and malevolent revenge. For those familiar with the original play, it’s one of the only ones that has magic in it – A Midsummer Night’s Dream comes to mind as well – so Atwood was tasked with the challenge of a contemporary retelling and the way so dealt with the magical aspect was fantastic. Theatre is a wonderful setting for something like this, because the arts allow a sort of modern magic. Hollywood would have worked as well, but even this untraditional theatre setting made my heart happy.
You never really… like the characters? I find that’s true of other Margaret Atwood books as well. Felix is a disgruntled man and definitely not someone the reader will probably like, unless they can related because they’ve been similarly slighted. However, he’s such a well-made character. Conniving, angry, broken, and just a little mad. You don’t have to like a character to be interested in them. I found that this was true of other characters as well – Anne-Marie was a particular favorite, but the inmates were also good.
The pacing was a little slow. Again, this is just something I find typically in Atwood’s book. And because of experience, I know it pays off with a sudden burst at the end. The plot builds slowly and is generally kept in only the main character’s head. It’s slow, but it’s interesting.
One thing I thought was interesting about Hag-Seed was that Felix and the players were putting on The Tempest as a musical… and then Atwood worked that into the book. There are a few songs worked into the body of the book. This came across really well in the audiobook, where they were read like raps. It gave a different feel to the book, a whole different level of the experience. Really neat.
Hag-Seed probably wouldn’t be a book I’d pull out to re-read often, but I thought it was a great story and especially a really good retelling. Honestly, if you like The Handmaid’s Tale or Oryx and Crake you’re going to like Hag-Seed. It’s very true to her style and a great book. Revenge stories are always interesting, and this is one that feels like it has levels and you’d see new details the next time you read it.
Have you read The Tempest? It was required reading in high school for me, but it’s still one of my favorite Shakespeare plays – I like it because it’s so different. Tell me what you thought of it in the comments!