By Margaret Atwood
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?
Have you ever read a book that you knew was good, but you just could not find enough personal appreciation in it? This is where my dilemma lies with Hag-Seed. So I am proceeding with caution. My first encounter with Atwood was The Handmaid’s Tale. A familiar title to many. Unfortunately, my experience was similar and this was a second-chance sort of read. I like the author’s writing, but I want to love it. So what happened?
This is a round-a-bout re-imaging of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. That was the first issue. I am not a fan of The Tempest. I am sure that will solicit a few groans or remarks, but it is honesty. It seems like the sort of work I could appreciate, but it truly does little for me. In fact, after I completed Hag-Seed, I made a point of rereading The Tempest to see if it could possibly solicit some new feelings or uncover this deeper appreciation I seek. It did not.
So why did I chose Hag-Seed? As mentioned above, I want to give this author a real chance. And retelling. It is that simple. Retellings provide opportunity for new life. I cannot pass them up, even when I may not be a fan of the original story.
This rebirth, if you will, tells the story through a pitiful lad by the name of Felix who has lost his love, his daughter, and now his career. He makes the decision to exile himself to a small shack in rural Ontario and lives out his days accompanied by his daughter’s haunting memory to the extent he is semi delusional, but also very aware of this fact. He eventually takes a position at a correctional facility, where he heads up the Literacy Through Theatre program. He begins directing Shakespeare that is casted with inmates as part of a rehabilitation program.
When Felix learns that those responsible for the loss of his career and cancellation of his vision of The Tempest will be attending his next presentation at Burgess Correctional Institute, he has another vision in mind. Revenge. What unfolds is a curious but not fulling engrossing set of events. They proceed over a very large span of time that feels drawn out and without climax. The pace is steady, never picking up to allow for any sort of real excitement. It felt like a very streamlined read, with no real emotional value.
We have our main character Felix and his companion, his deceased and now imaginary daughter Miranda. Personally, I shared no connection with Felix. Given his loss and back story, I was hoping to acquire some emotional investment or even a few pangs of shared grief. It just never happened. I did not dislike him, nor did I like him. Nothing extraordinary was happening here. He was credible enough, but in a dull sense. This is the type of man who no one notices at the party. His entire existence felt sad, but not sad enough to truly engage me or solicit proper emotion.
Miranda is a fictional memory at this point. When he is home, he lives with what he believes she would have grown to become. He is aware this is unhealthy, but continues to take a small amount of solace in her presence. She really is not constructed to contribute to the story aside from providing insight that Felix has not recovered from her death.
The inmates offered small amounts of needed humor throughout the story. Perhaps learning their very brief history when discovering their chosen screen names was one of the more enjoyable moments for me within Hag-Seed. Their contribution to the story felt very limited. I was hoping they would be utilized to provide a much-needed breath of life to a story that was starting to feel stale.
I contemplated on how I would approach this aspect of the book. Atwood is capable of clearly depicting each setting. There is no lack of detail within her writing, and I did not struggle to understand and visualize the environment. It was drab, but drab can be expected given the circumstances. Felix chose to isolate himself, and then finds redemption within the confines of prison walls. Everything is very lackluster because that is the setting.
So here is where I would normally spend a minute explaining to you how the real depth and world building was developed through Felix’s work. I would spend several sentences elaborating on the fact that the play or production gave great contribution to the overall setting of our story. It did not.
Perhaps it was the author’s writing alone that gave me hope. Her almost poetic and somehow comforting words urged me forward. There is something in her work that conveys a real talent. I can feel it and even understand why others love it. But it never fully connects with me. This is difficult to explain. It is like trying to enjoy your favorite food when you have a horrible cold. You know it is good, but you simply cannot taste it.
I was hoping this review would not sound abrasive. I have respect for this author and wanted to fully connect this time, but I just didn’t. I am severing all ties and accepting that some things are not meant to be. I was admittedly bored and unable to find what I was looking for with this one. I am not sure who I could possibly recommend this to. I know there is an audience. The reviews and ratings prove this. I just am not part of it, so I can’t relate.
*I received this book from Blogging for Books. This is my honest and unbiased review.
About The Author
Margaret Atwood, whose work has been published in thirty-five countries, is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, her novels include Cat’s Eye, short-listed for the 1989 Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; Oryx and Crake, short-listed for the 2003 Man Booker Prize; The Year of the Flood; and her most recent, MaddAddam. She is the recipient of the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award, and lives in Toronto with the writer Graeme Gibson.