“Hag-Seed” by Margaret Atwood

Book cover for titular bookBook: “Hag-Seed” by Margaret Atwood
Published by Hogarth Press
Genres: Contemporary, Fantasy, Literary Fiction
Format: Paperback, 300 pages
Rating: 4/5⭐
Source: Blogging for Books (received for free in exchange for an honest review)
Goodreads

William Shakespeare’s The Tempest retold as Hag-Seed. Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His productions have amazed and confounded. Now he’s staging a Tempest like no other: not only will it boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds.

Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. And also brewing revenge.

After twelve years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here, Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It’s magic! But will it remake Felix as his enemies fall?
Margaret Atwood’s novel take on Shakespeare’s play of enchantment, retribution, and second chances leads us on an interactive, illusion-ridden journey filled with new surprises and wonders of its own.

Prior to reading Hag-Seed, the only Shakespearean project I’ve understood at all in life was Romeo & Juliet. I didn’t know what a retelling was, either, but I like it: I want to write one for R&J, one of my favorite romances of all time. (I love a fabulous tragedy, after all. 😏)

Not once did I think to look up “tempest”, which I now think was much of my issue with understanding it—well, and Shakespeare’s usage of metaphors and habit of metaphoring it up like no tomorrow. “Define tempest”, I submitted in my Google search bar widget. Oh.

Oh.

A tempest is a storm.

Since my ninth grade Advanced Placement English class, I have always thought The Tempest to be about some sort of temptation—as if the writing itself, between its formatting and archaic terms, was at all readable to an autistic, sheltered girl with gifted brains no one would explain foreign communication devices to.

Ah, yes. I get it now. I still dislike it. I’m not big on Shakespeare, nor do I grasp the full greatness of him and his so-called wondrous works of writing. I also think his works were some of the most ancient and violent things I was forced to read in school, all while Harry Potter books and Bibles were banned.

So I’m not in favor of Shakespeare beyond the tragic masterpiece that is my aforementioned favorite. As with music, I can love the works without loving the creator; therefore, I can love two of Justin Bieber’s songs without being able to tolerate him. Justin Bieber is to Shakespeare as “As Long as You Love Me” is to Romeo & Juliet.

On to Hag-Seed

I had to give you guys some background on my background with Shakespeare, ’cause it felt fair. I seldom speak of or comment on him for these reasons. With that said, I didn’t totally consider my dislike for him when requesting this book, for I was certain of two things:

  1. I wanted to read a new book, but my local Dollar Tree was lacking in books to choose from—depressingly so: bare shelves; I’m nervous they’re closing, but didn’t ask.
  2. I wanted to read one of Margaret Atwood’s novels. I see so many quotes by her and praise for her all over the internet—have for several years—so I wanted to give her a chance, but always forgot until I saw her name again. So I jumped in the opportunity, obviously, shocked to find there were copies available (she seems like the name that would become unavailable immediately).

I received the book last Friday night (I didn’t dance on tabletops or do something I might’ve forgot 🎶) and finished it Tuesday night. I feel I read this book slower than I usually read books, but it’s been a while…and the book got off to a slow start.

Atwood’s writing is beautiful, though. I kept wanting to skip forward at some points, despite my disinterest in the main character throughout the entire novel: he bored me, living in his fantasy world, but then I related to him. I still don’t like him, but at least Felix Phillips wasn’t completely unrelatable.

I feel her sentence structure and formatting, though lacking in long dashes, resembles much of my own novel writing: twisted, slightly archaic, carefully selected. Hers is more poetic, though; I noticed in the opening pages she’s released poetry. I used to write poetry, but it’s no longer a raging passion.

I awarded this novel four of five stars because I came away from the book not satisfied, but not dissatisfied, either; because I was not in favor of much of what Felix was doing—how could he not see he was inflicting upon himself the very prisons Prospero inflicted upon himself in The Tempest?

…or is that what The Tempest is about, and I still fail to understand it completely?

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Jamie’s gravatar

Great review Liz! I completely agree about Shakespeare, I just don’t really dig his work. I have difficulty with his use of language. I appreciate him for his influence on literature but I don’t go out of my way to read his plays. Retellings have been really popular lately though, so I’m sure an R+J retelling would be well received.

I adore Atwood, her prose is marvelous and I really enjoy her narrators. Perhaps this isn’t the best introductory to her work being a retelling of Shakespeare, but I can definitely recommend her other books. The Handmaid’s Tale and The Edible Woman are really good. I have a few of her other books on my shelf for a rainy day. 🙂

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