‘Hag-Seed’ by Margaret Atwood

From the back of the book:

Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. Now he’s staging a Tempest like no other. It will boost his reputation. It will heal emotional wounds.  Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. After twelve years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here, Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It’s magic! But will it remake Felix as his enemies fall?

Hag-Seed is Margaret Atwood’s retelling of the Tempest, as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series.

Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite authors, and up to this point I’ve loved everything I’ve read by her (especially the Oryx and Crake trilogy, some of the best books I’ve ever read). Because of that, I went into Hag-Seed with pretty high expectations. In short, I was disappointed.

All the way through, it felt very self-consciously meta. I kept waiting for Atwood to do something subversive or unexpected with the source material, but it never happened. To make matters worse, most of the meta-ness is quite clunky and obvious. It felt like once Atwood had come up with a parallel to the original Tempest, she tried to draw the reader’s attention to it so much that in the end it got a bit repetitive. I mean, we get it already; the island is a prison. Literally.

None of the characters seemed like actual people. I found Atwood’s Prospero, Felix, totally unsympathetic, and don’t even get me started on the prison inmates. I can kind of see why she decided to have the inmates rapping, but to be honest it just made me cringe. I actually went to see her live whilst she was promoting Hag-Seed, and was lucky enough to hear her reciting some of the raps! Watching her perform them was great (mostly because of the novelty of it all) but sadly it didn’t translate to the page.

If I had to describe Hag-Seed in one word, it would be ‘cheesy’, something I never thought I’d say about an Atwood novel. One of the best things about Atwood is how all her books are written in totally different styles, but are all of equally high quality. Whilst Hag-Seed was certainly a different style to her other work, it felt rushed and of lower quality than the rest of her books.

I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, but would instead direct them to one of Atwood’s masterpieces (and there are many to choose from).

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