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 by Margaret Atwood
Publication Date: October 11, 2016 by Hogarth
Your profanity, thinks Felix, has oft been your whoreson hag-born progenitor of literacy. Along with your whoreson cigarettes, may the red plague rid them.
This book is so much fun! In her usual fashion, Margaret Atwood has been able to take an idea and make it completely her own without taking away from the original play (much like her take on The Odyssey in her book The Penelopiad. While there are aspects of the story that are funny enough to have put me in awkward situations where strangers wonder why I’m laughing aloud in public places, there is also a genuine and moving storyline that slowly develops as the novel progresses towards its finale.
While not solely a commentary on the justice system, Atwood does provoke some questions regarding how we treat those who are incarcerated and from her notes about her research, it is clear that was her intention. Although our narration is solely from Felix’s point of view, we slowly get to see the personalities come out of the adult men he works with every day and while at times their statements or actions seem a bit ridiculous, Atwood manages to allow the reader a fairly intimate view of their different characters which helps to avoid these men becoming laughable, one dimensional figures in the plot. (Also, side note: Anne-Marie may be one of my favorite Atwood characters EVER).
For all of Felix’s plans for revenge, it is clear there is much more he needs to deal with than just feeling ousted from his job. The reader learns early on about the death of both his wife and young daughter (I promise this isn’t a spoiler!) and Atwood creates a parallel world to Shakespeare’s The Tempest as the reader comes to understand the depths of Felix’s grief. Where perhaps any other author might have complicated the plot too much by sharing this bit of Felix’s life, Atwood does an amazing job of tying in all the different story lines to connect them all in the end and the whole play-within-a-play method is so much fun!
I was lucky enough to begin this book with a full understanding of Shakespeare’s The Tempest since I studied it in depth in college (despite being a long time ago, my knowledge of the play apparently stayed with me!). I would definitely recommend that those unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s play take the time to learn about it before beginning this book. There’s a lot of in depth discussion about the characters which could really throw someone for a loop if they don’t have a basic grasp of the plot (or perhaps that’s just me, since I’m horrible at remembering names).
I’d recommend this book equally for those who love Shakespeare and those who wouldn’t touch his work with a ten foot pole. Atwood is one of my favorite authors and her writing style not only makes a piece of Shakespeare’s work that might seem inaccessible to some enjoyable and easy to read, but she manages to make it into a contemporary piece of literature that once again (hellooooo, The Handmaid’s Tale) speaks volumes about not only our society, but human nature as well.
Thank you, Netgalley and Hogarth for allowing me to read this before it’s release date!