How excited was I to received this Advanced Reader’s Copy from Bookstr?!
Margaret Atwood is up there with Joyce Carol Oates as one of my favorite writers of all times. It really just fluctuates between whomever I’ve read most recently, though I do have to say, Ms. Atwood’s stories tend to stick in my head much longer than JCO’s do.
That being said, this is a bit of a departure from her most recent books. Most know Atwood as a writer of dystopic novels, though that wasn’t always the case. This is definitely NOT a dystopic novel, as it is part of Crown Publishing’s Hogarth Shakespeare project. Hag-Seed is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, another one of his plays I had zero familiarity with prior to this novel.
First, let me say, that the feel of this book in my hands is splendid. For a paperback of under 300 pages, it feels hefty- due mostly to the thickness of the paper it is published on. I absolutely love this- when I’m reading it, there is no denying it is THERE, in my hot little hands.
Now, I typically read Atwood’s novels quickly- in a matter of days- but this one took a few weeks. Mostly because I felt lost most of the time. Perhaps it is because of my unfamiliarity with The Tempest, but once the play was being performed at the prison, I couldn’t follow what was happening very well. I tried to read this novel as just that, a story, regardless of the fact it was a modern spin on an old tale, and I just wasn’t getting it. There were definite moments where the book held me- in the beginning when Felix is cast out of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival, when he is meeting with Estelle, his contact at the prison, and any time Anne-Marie had a presence. But the purpose of putting on The Tempest as a cover for his revenge just didn’t add up to me, as it seemed too far fetched and disjointed. And then, just like that, the whole purpose of this novel, the revenge, was over and never really mentioned again.
The other thing that I didn’t quite get was his relationship with his daughter Miranda. Sure, he had named her after the character in The Tempest, but when he kept seeing her, despite her death years earlier, and was having conversations with her, I questioned how that helped in the story. Because he is clearly delusional? So delusional as to see and talk to his dead daughter? And to be so delusional as to create this revenge play in a prison? Perhaps.
As a stand alone novel, it was a solid meh. I suppose if you were a big fan of The Tempest, this would make more since and be sensational. Luckily Atwood provided a five page synopsis of the original play at the end, which helped some. I also suppose you could call this story quite meta, as it is the retelling of The Tempest, where the main character is living his own Tempest while producing The Tempest in prison. Yes. Clever and meta, it is.
Of the Hogarth Shakespeare’s books, this is the third I’ve read after Vinegar Girl and The Gap of Time. So far, The Gap of Time has been my favorite, but I can’t wait to check out more of them as they are released.