Community Magazine

Hag-Seed: Book Review

By Thegenaboveme @TheGenAboveMe

Hag-Seed: Book Review

Published October 6, 2016. 

Reading Hag-Seed (2016) by Margaret Atwood is a 2-for-1 treat since her novel is a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest.
Her novel is part of the Hogarth Project, a series of novels retelling Shakespeare plays as part of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's works.
This novel's protagonist is Felix, a long-time director of a community theater in Canada.
Because Felix is in late midlife, the novel addresses themes such as working through relationships with younger professionals, confronting memories of past decades, and trying to shape one's own legacy.
Published the year Atwood turned 77, the novel contains a richness in depicting midlife and late life that novels with mature characters often lack.
The start of the novel begins with Felix foolishly handing over a lot of the control of financing and politicking to an assistant director, Tony, who uses that power to usurp Felix, who believed he could maintain power by focusing only on the creative aspects of theater.
During his "exile" from the theater, Felix must decide how to rebuild his career and decide how to address Tony's treachery.
Felix secures a job directing a play, starring inmates in a prison. Of course, he decides that they will perform The Tempest.  This gives Felix a lot of time to think about the topics of crimes, punishment, revenge, and even forgiveness.
But working with inmates includes a degree of volatility. But they aren't the only wildcards in the narrative.
Because I am very familiar with The Tempest, there were a few passages in the middle of the novel that I though overexplained some of the characters' personalities, motivations, and conflicts. However, I can see how these were necessary for the uninitiated.
The last fifty pages were riveting. Not only is the play-within-the-play full of suspense, but the novel's characters offer a lot of insight about the characters in Shakespeare's text.
I have seen or read this play well over a dozen times, but Atwood invited me to explore themes and characters in entirely new ways.  I totally forgave the slow pace of the central chapters because the final chapter paid rich dividends.
A great read about choices we still have before us even after decades of work and life experience.
Related:

Books on Aging
King Lear: One Play, Two Views
Novels about Ripeness in Late Life


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