Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood

Continuing the theme of Shakespeare retold, this is the inimitable Margaret Atwood's retelling of The Tempest, my favorite Shakespeare play. It's juicy in the such a wonderfully Atwood way, as she layers the story on top of itself again and again. Not only is the narrative a retelling of the play, our protagonist is also putting on a production of The Tempest inside the medium security wing of the local men's prison, and that production itself contains at least two other versions inside of it. It's a fabulous onion-y Tempest, to be sure.

Felix Phillips, daring Artistic Director of a well-known Shakespeare festival in small town Canada, has been unceremoniously ousted from his position in a vicious coup led by his right-hand man, Tony. Adding insult to injury, he had recently lost his three-year-old daughter, Miranda, to meningitis, and Miranda's mother had died in childbirth. It's all too much to bear, so Felix betakes himself to the countryside and a self-imposed exile as he slowly (very, very slowly) plots his revenge. In true Atwood-ian fashion, a ghostly Miranda shadows her father as he goes about his quiet, isolated life, growing up as she would have done were she alive. When a teaching position opens up at the nearby prison, Felix sees his chance to enact a vengeful plot against those who had so wronged him.

Much like the other Atwood novels I've read, I don't super love the writing, but man, do I love her ideas! This is a very fitting tribute to my favorite Shakespeare play, and enough of its own work of fiction to stand on its own. The prisoner's rap lyrics are perhaps a bit silly (how much rap does Atwood listen to?), but the scene is set wonderfully, and Felix is such a juicy character you can't help but be totally sucked into his world. We all want to see Tony and his cronies get their comeuppance nearly as much as Felix does. And his imaginary (maybe?) Miranda is sweet but also creepy enough to be sufficiently chilling. It's such fun to read, for those familiar with the play or coming to it anew.

Read it, thou whoreson!


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