by Margaret Atwood
Pub Date 11 Oct 2016
ARC provided by Netgalley
I have enjoyed watching several performances of Shakespeare’s The Tempest on film. My favorite is the one where Helen Mirren takes on the role of Prospero, originally written for a male. That is one of the great things about Shakespeare, the adaptability. Now the fantastic author Margaret Atwood has put her spin on The Tempest.
Atwood’s Tempest takes place in our time. The main character, Felix, is an actor and director who has fallen from grace. His avant garde productions have lost their charm for the audiences. As the head of a theater group, he never sees the betrayal coming until his right hand man,Tony, holds the figurative dagger in the form of a executive board coup. Felix’s downfall comes shortly after the death of his only child, Miranda, at age three from meningitis. His wife of just over a year had died shortly after childbirth. In four years Felix lost it all, except his work. Now thanks to Tony, that is gone too.
Felix begins to plot his revenge. He withdraws from the world, uses a different name to assure his anonymity and starts the long game he plans to destroy Tony with. He is accompanied by the spirit of his daughter. Like Prospero used magic in the play, Felix creates his own vision of his daughter who ages as time passes, who speaks to him and keeps his company.
Needing a job to support himself, Felix begins teaching Shakespeare at a prison. It is not full time, in fact is only a few months of the year. The students, inmates, are hardened criminals. What happens in this collaboration between Felix and the inmates is just as magical as that which Prospero creates on his island.
If you are not familiar with The Tempest, Atwood includes a prose synopsis of the play at the end of the book. I would suggest reading it first if you have no familiarity with the play. For those who have read or seen the play, they can just jump into the book.
I enjoyed Hag-Seed. Having read and seen performances of The Tempest, the book’s plot and its parallels to the play, were interesting. I have also read Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard by Laura Bates so was also familiar with the use of Shakespeare within prison settings. While not an intense page turner, the book still delivers complex characters and a very satisfying plot line.