Hag-Seed: A Modern Retelling of The Tempest

Oh. my. goodness. I’ve been riveted on Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed all day, and finished it about 20 minutes ago. I kept trying to put the book down, so I could stretch out the time it took to read it… to better savor it. But I would just pick it back up, because I was just that invested in the plot! 

Hagseed is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I have read many of Shakespeare’s works, such as Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Romeo and Juliet (of course!), but never The Tempest. I was a little worried that I might become lost in the book without appropriate background knowledge, but I have good faith in Atwood. I went ahead and picked it out from Blogging for Books. I am so glad that I made this decision, because this book is so skillfully written and is going on my “favorites” shelf of my bookcase.

Okay, let’s take a look at the summary.

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?

One of the main things I love about Hag-Seed is the fleshed-out characters. Felix, oh lord, Felix. Throughout the book, I found myself shaking my head at his pure barminess but also rooting for him. Even though his moral compass seems to be completely upside-down and inside-out, his inner turmoil can’t help but resonate with the reader. Then, there are the inmates. By the end of the book, I felt a personal attachment to every single one. They have their own personalities, and aren’t used as stock characters to provide a means to an end within the book (unlike what Felix is trying to do!).

I also loved Atwood’s voice in this book. She has such dry wit and descriptive imagery; that’s part of what made the book so irresistible. Every time I read one of her books, I feel like I’m reading classic literature that has been held up through the ages. This book has the same feel, even though it was released this month!

After reading Hag-Seed, I definitely want to read The Tempest! I know I’m taking a backwards approach to it; you typically don’t read retellings before the original work. However, without reading this book, I may have never picked up The Tempest. One thing that I especially love about Hagseed was that it has a section in the back of the book with a synopsis of The Tempest. It really makes the plot more accessible, as you can flip to the back and really understand the symbolism.

I really don’t want to spoil too much of the book, but it’s a must-read in my opinion. 5/5! Let me know in the comments if you have read this, or any of Atwood’s work. 🙂

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