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?~Goodreads Blurb
The thought I had almost immediately was that those who convert to a religion or find their faith are usually the most devout, the most outspoken, the quickest to claim something is sacrilegious. When you grow up with something, it gives you a bit of leeway, a touch of humour about it all. You can joke about Jesus’ obsession with washing people’s feet(foot fetish much?)or the streaker at the arrest of Christ (Mark 14:52.)For some of us, Shakespeare is our faith. He’s a voice for the masses, not just for the upper classes. Shakespeare was never meant to be a punishment or a requirement for those who love going to the theatre. If you go to see Shakespeare and no one laughs, no one gasps, no one is drawn in, get out. Go to a Festival, go to Bard on The Beach in Vancouver, go find my people.
Shakespeare was never meant to be taken so dry and dull, it can be serious stuff but with a light ever present. There’s a reason we still talk about Old Billy Shakes. His plays have been used as a stepping stone throughout modern films and television, it all still works. Instead of requiring that every word be spoken, and nothing changed(Looking at you, Ken Branagh’s Uncut 4 hours of Hamlet) , there are some of my favorites, my people, who take the essence of Bill’s plays and bring it to new life for us. Lucky for us, Margaret Atwood is one of my people. While she doesn’t stick directly to the play the feel and the madness of the Tempest is felt. The personal choices Atwood takes to show the crazy vibe, that can be hidden or overlooked in Tempest when it is produced, really draws you into this obsessive nature of Felix or Prospero. A part of Hogarth’s Shakespeare retelling series, Hag-seed is another jewel in both Atwood and Hogarth’s collection.
Even without staying 100 percent true to the original text, Atwood gives us this amazing view into the play by using one of Shakespeare’s own tools: The play within a play. Similar to Hamlet, Felix uses this Tempest play to show how he’s been wrong and to strike guilt and fear into his enemies. Tempest has always seemed to be a strange play to me. Prospero has never seemed like a reliable witness, and Atwood magnifies the little quirks and puts them in a modern context.I realize it may be an odd thing to note, but the old adage “Does a madman know he’s crazy?” really jumps to the foreground with Hag-Seed. The audience is constantly second guessing Felix, and wondering if it’s just stress or grief or has he really lost it? Is he simply an avant-garde director, or a nutter they placed in charge of the circus? His revenge takes an almost Poe like twist, while his mind seems to struggle to push through the play versus real life.
There were times when I had to set the book down and physically walk away to think about it. I knew going in that it was a re-telling of Tempest, and that was one of the reasons I requested an ARC from Blogging For Books. Knowing the story and how it’s going to end is usually an A to B to C map, not for an Atwood novel. I kept wondering how this was going to end in the playbook happy ending. She drew me in, and even seeing the life of the characters imitate the characters in the play within the book(a bit of a mess I know), I had to finish it. Whether you buy the book or borrow it from your library, I am begging you to read this book. At 301 pages, you’ll tear through it and have enough time to go back and ask yourself “How did I miss that?”
Random House provides this information about Margaret Atwood: Margaret Atwood, whose work has been published in thirty-five countries, is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, her novels include Cat’s Eye, short-listed for the 1989 Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; Oryx and Crake, short-listed for the 2003 Man Booker Prize; The Year of the Flood; and her most recent, MaddAddam. She is the recipient of the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award, and lives in Toronto with the writer Graeme Gibson.
For more info on Hag-Seed click here.
Big Thanks to Blogging For Books for providing an ARC for me to review!
Freelance Editor & Reviewer