[686]: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
Knofp Canada | October 11th, 2016
Source: Paperback ARC from publisher
Adult Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

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?

This is Margaret Atwood’s interpretation of The Tempest for the Hogarth Shakespeare series. I’ve been trying to keep pace with every instalment and have made it my goal to read all the books. The operative word here is “try”. As in I’ve tried reading Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson but I had a rough time. I had to set it aside, unfortunately. I’ve mentioned it before that the reason why I was excited about this series of books is because it allows plebian readers such as myself to appreciate Shakespeare indirectly. Kinda like osmosis. We all know Shakespeare has his own trademarked language; one that’s hard to interpret. So these books are heaven-sent.

BUT. But. Margaret Atwood’s and Howard Jacobson’s contributions left me floundering. Their writing chops went beyond my comprehension which is so depressingly bad. How am I supposed to elevate my reading and comprehension skills if I can’t follow along with their writing? Atwood and Jacobson are a couple of prolific and award-winning writers. I feel awful for not being able to enjoy their takes on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Merchant of Venice, respectively. Gah.

In any case, Hag-Seed follows the story of Felix Phillips; the aritistic director of a Shakespeare company who suddenly found himself out of a job. He was, for the most part, a difficult person to work for. He’s eccentric, with an unorthodox method of directing a play. When he was unceremoniously relieved of his job, he goes into hiding. He bided his time for 12 years; planning, scheming until he can go back to doing what he loved.

When an opportunity arises in the form of teaching literacy to inmates, he grabbed at the chance and spun it in a way that he can teach and direct at the same time. It was brilliant, really. His chance at revenge to the same production company that wronged him.

I really wanted to like this. Ultimately, and as much as I can appreciate why Atwood is a genius, her writing went over my head. I’m embarrassed to admit that. But I have accumulated a small selection of her books.  She has a mastery of language all on her own – which was a problem of mine with Shakespeare’s work, to begin with. No matter how beautiful her prose is, I’m not the right reader for her books. It also doesn’t help that I’m not familiar with The Tempest. There is something wholly intricate about it that bears studying. Given time, I think I will be able to catch up. Unfortunately, that’s not today, and it’s not this book.

  • Lovely review Joy 🙂 I’m glad you liked this one, but sorry it wasn’t all that awesome : I don’t think I would like a single thing about it, haha 😀 But yay for it being a book for you, sort of 😉 (I’m slowly catching up. <3 Thiiiink I might be able to comment on all your posts tonight. Sorry for all the comment spam coming up, hah :D)

  • It happens to me too sometimes, that I get lost because a book is over my head. It happens, not every book is for you.

  • don’t be embarrassed, it’s awesome that you would come out and admit such a thing. I too would probably have had trouble with the writing.

  • You don’t have to be embarrassed about the writing being over your head. There’s a lot of different kinds of writing. I know YA is very simplistic, but literature doesn’t always have to be so complicated either. (You know that though, you read literature all the time so I don’t know what I’m saying.) But sometimes literature can be more studying than enjoyment of reading, and this sounds like one of those books.

  • I’m old enough to not care what anyone thinks and say that I’m done with reading books that are “good for me.” I think Shakespeare was a genius at coming up with premises that have endured to this day, but I find reading his plays really, really tedious. At this point in my life, I just don’t have the patience for uber-intellectual fiction. I did read A Handmaid’s Tale way back and think M. Atwood is a really talented writer. But I will definitely skip this!

  • Hmmm…what a shame…sounds like I would have trouble with this one too.

  • Yeah, I’m not the type of person to “get” books like that. I have to be able to easily understand what I’m reading.

  • Greg Hill

    This sounds like one I would struggle with too. I’ve always been kinda interested in The Tempest due mainly t other people riffing off it (I’ve read several timers that the classic SF movie Forbidden Planet was loosely based on the concept) but I’ve never read it, or anything really referencing it directly. I think I’d have to skip this one though, doesn’t sound like it would work for me- although I do admit to being curious how and if he gets his revenge.

  • Alas not this day

  • I’ve always been curious about the classic version of The Tempest so I’ve been keeping my eye out for your review and though it was a bit beyond what you felt digestible, I’m glad you were able to “appreciate why Atwood is a genius” with Hag Seed. I’m frustrated right now because there is a upcoming book with a fantasy spin of the story The Tempest that I wanted to tell you about and now I can’t think of the author. Anyways, thanks for the honest and lovely review 🙂

  • How very, very interesting…. There is a famous documentary, made many years ago, called “Shakespeare Behind Bars.” It follows inmates in a Kentucky prison who are putting on a production of…… THE TEMPEST. Coincidence, I wonder? Maybe not!

    Although you couldn’t get into this installment of Hogarth Shakespeare, I bet that you’d like “Shakespeare Behind Bars.” It was so well-made and extremely compelling. If you watch it, (which I hope you do), let me know what you thought of it!

  • kindlemom1

    Oh gosh, if you couldn’t follow all of this then there is probably no way in heck I can! Wonderful honest review! I’m not sure this is one I will be adding to my pile but I just might have to check the author’s other stuff out and see if there is anything I can read from it. 😉

  • I’ve heard other readers struggle with this one too. I’ve only read the Oryx and Crake series by her, which is science fiction, and I loved it. She definitely requires her readers to work a little, though. But I know what you mean, I hate that feeling when you just don’t “get” a book.

  • Karen

    That’s too bad. I got excited reading the summary because I always have a hard time slugging through the classics too and thought this might be a good one to try.

    Karen @For What It’s Worth

  • I am nearly certain that this book would not work well for me. I actually haven’t read any of her work but hope to read The Handmaid’s Tale at some point. Sorry this one wasn’t better for you.