[686]: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

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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.

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[655]: Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

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Knopf Canada | June 21st, 2016 | Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars


The latest in the Hogarth Shakespeare series is Anne Tyler’s interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew. I’ve looked forward to reading this book ever since I’ve heard of this all-star endeavour. The Taming of the Shrew is a personal favourite of mine because of Katherine. To me, she’s the queen of ball-busting sarcasm and witty repertoire. And even if it took me several tries before I got her zings due to Bill’s usage of the old language, I know that for every Elizabeth Bennetts in the literary world, there lives a version of Katherine Minola underneath.
Vinegar Girl is loosely based on this Shakespeare comedy. There was no bet to get Kate to go out with Pyotr. Instead, we have her father trying to marry her off so he could keep working with him for the good of Science. Bunny is as superficial as Bianca was but still somehow managed to show some sister love in her own way. Kate’s family (which consists of her father and Bunny) are two of the most selfish creatures I’ve ever known who can’t function without Kate’s coddling. Their father is one of those poor clueless characters whose life’s primary focus is to Science. His knowledge of raising two daughters is severely lacking which left the burden of  keeping house to the older Baptista. Despite the way he underappreciated Kate’s value, I like their father-daughter dynamics. It was endearing with an underlying sadness attributable to the missing mother who died or disappeared or left (I can’t remember. Sorry.).
Kate, for the most part, was an interesting character. She’s stuck taking care of everybody; a push-over who hates her job (she’s a teacher’s assistant) but loves being with the children. Because in some way, they understood her. She goes with the flow and is easily accepting of her family’s failures. She wasn’t the admirable version of Katherine Minola for the majority of the book for sure. She grew a backbone eventually once she realizes she can’t always set aside her wants for the sake of her family.
As far as the romance goes, it’s barely there and I didn’t mind it a bit. Pyotr is a Russian Scientist who got to know Kate through her father’s – for lack of a better word – “pimping”. I found him adorable in his own way. He turns his less than stellar command of the English language into a comedic schtick.
I didn’t see the development of their relationship, to be honest. Anne Tyler doesn’t like showing too much, and while it wasn’t a sudden thing, I would’ve appreciated knowing  the exact moment when Kate realizes Pyotr could be the man for her (not that she was looking. She was forced into it – kind of.).
Vinegar Girl is a far cry from the original, for sure. But I like that Anne Tyler retold the story that it came off a bit more realistic and modern than the original. She gave Vinegar Girl her voice, her stamp, as it were. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but I appreciate it, nonetheless.
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On the Night Table [36]: June TBR

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This month, I’m endeavouring to read and review what’s left of my review pile. I haven’t been getting too many books for review, so I think I owe it to these wonderful publishers to get them all done in the next week and a half. I think I’ve talked enough about the top book, so I’m not even going to bother mentioning it.

Burn by Paula Weston is the final book in the Rephaim series. Second blog tour I’m participating this year (the first one was for the third book in the same series). It stops here on June 15th. I’m absolutely scared to read this book. 

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is the third book in the Hogarth Shakespeare series. This is her interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew. It has a meddling father trying to save his Russian assistant by marrying his daughter off to keep the Russian in America. Hilarity ensues. 

Opportunity Knocks by Alison Sweeney is about one woman’s entanglement with a celebrity chef. It sounds like a lot of fun, and I’m really hoping to enjoy this novel. I normally have a rule against reading celebrity-written books, but that’s not going to dampen my curiosity. 

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West is a memoir about being a woman. You can never read enough books about feminism, so this book is welcomed and timely. 

So these are the books I want to read this month. Oh, I’m sure there are far more books I want to read, but I’m concentrating on these. What’s on your night table this week?

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