Monday, October 31, 2016

Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood

Hogarth, 2016
320 pp

arc - my thanks to the algorithms and the good people at LT.

If you haven't read this book yet, go and get a copy. It's delightful. My only regret is that I didn't listen to it, although I'm thinking I just might -- there are a few theatrical numbers here that would be more entertaining in stereo, that is, if they're actually set to music. If anyone knows whether this is so, please let me know.

As I said, the book is just delightful -- it's satirical, it's funny in some spots, and a bit poignant here and there, but just enough so that it doesn't get sappy.  Hag-Seed, is of course, one more offering from the Hogarth Shakespeare series, and this time around, Margaret Atwood takes on The Tempest. I think she's done a great job with it.

This novel follows the follies and foibles of Felix Phillips, the ousted artistic director of the Makeshiweg Festival who has been removed from his position as top dog by some conniving manipulation by his trusted assistant. [As just a small aside, I recently read an article in the New Yorker which identifies Makeshiweg as the Stratford Shakespeare Festival  -- not being from Canada, I had no clue. But that's just my little nod to the Stratford Shakespeare festival; knowing that little factoid or not knowing it before reading it doesn't really make a difference. ]  Anyway, going into his own form of exile, he reappears some years later as a teacher in a prison where certain inmates are allowed to attend a literacy course where they study different types of literature. Felix decides to not only teach them Shakespeare, but also to allow the inmates to put on plays based on the Bard's work. This time around it's The Tempest, which was the production he was going to put on at the time he got booted out of the festival.  Some twelve years later now, Felix realizes that the play would be a great vehicle through which he can have his revenge on all of the people who had worked behind his back to depose him, since he's learned that they're coming to the prison to see the play before they decide to take away the funding for the literacy program.  

So many people have written about this book, professional critics and casual reader people such as myself, so I won't go any further than that little appetite whetter of a synopsis.  What I will say is that while I loved the central thematic idea here of different types of prisons, a lot of other things crop us here as well: loss and grief, redemption, and the healing power of art, to name only a few. It's a lovely book, funny and tragic at the same time, and a joy to read from beginning to end. I suppose it might have Shakespearean purists foaming at the mouth with indignance, but pish-posh on that. I loved it. 

It's a fine book and you don't even need to be familiar with the play prior to reading the novel, since Atwood includes a lovely summary at the end. Highly, highly recommended.