Spoiler-Free Book Review: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed is a story about a parent’s undying love for their child, grief, revenge against those who do us wrong, forgiveness, the literal and figurative prisons we live in – forced upon us by others, and created on our own. You do not need to read The Tempest before reading Hag-Seed (I did, and I found it enjoyable to have Shakespeare’s work so fresh in my mind, but it’s not necessary).

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood, part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, is a re-telling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of The Tempest, but was pleasantly surprised to find how masterfully Atwood has crafted a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s work.

The prologue entitled “Screening”grabbed my attention from the get-go with words like “shots fired” and “lockdown”. I don’t usually like prologues because they are often used as information dumps for character backgrounds,or back story, but in this instance Atwood effectively used the prologue as a way to grab the readers attention.

As the novel begins we meet Felix Phillips, an Artistic Director for a Canadian theater company. Felix has lost his wife and child, which has affected his work, and he’s given the news that the Festival Board have voted to terminate Felix’s contract. He learns that he has been usurped by his colleague, Tony. (In The Tempest the usurper was Antonio).

Felix finds a worn-down cabin to rent, hiding away in his “cell” to plot revenge, using a fake name – Mr. Duke. He lands a job working at a prison where over the next twelve years he introduces the inmates to Shakespeare’s work, casting convicts in plays, leading up to his final play The Tempest. As an Educational Assistant I found his teaching methods interesting.

Other readers have said they had a hard time connecting with Felix. I would have to disagree. I felt sorry for Felix. He is at times over-confident, but I feel like this comes from low self-esteem, depression, and his struggle dealing with grief. His interactions with his dead daughter brought tears to my eyes. As a mother, I could see why he wanted to keep her alive.

My one complaint is that I wanted more –  more back story about Felix’s colleagues at the art festival, his wife, and the convicts.

Every single character in both The Tempest and Hag-Seed are imprisoned in some way, and each story provides a glimpse into how we are put into our “cells”, how others lock us up, and the struggle to be set free.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


Check out Margaret Atwood’s website http://margaretatwood.ca/





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