In October 2017 I was lucky enough to hear Margaret Atwood speak and to get a book signed. While Atwood was finishing off her interview my mum ran off to buy a few books for us to get signed. Since I had already read Oryx and Crake I landed with Hag-Seed, a recent Atwood book that had somehow completely passed me by when it was published. I had never even heard of it and googled it while we queued. It’s a re-telling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Groovy, I thought.
Now I’ve finally read it, I’m so glad this is the book I have signed. I will be recommending it to everyone, Shakespeare and Atwood fans or not. Hag-Seed follows the vengeful Felix (or Mr Duke) as he puts on Shakespearean plays in a local prison, all in the hopes of getting his own back on his former colleagues (now national politicians). The layers in Hag-Seed are intense, especially when you consider the layers of The Tempest. It is essentially a novel of a play of a play of a play. There might even be another few plays in there.
Not only is it a fascinating contemporary re-imagination of The Tempest, Hag-Seed also provides some provocative observations about criminal justice systems, parental grief and, (obviously, it’s Atwood) gender. Towards the end there’s a moment involving a few puppets, and I couldn’t help but get some Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop vibes – I would love to know if that was intentional or not.
Since reading The Handmaid’s Tale at high school, I have considered myself an Atwood fan, but as I’ve mentioned before I have actually struggled with some of her other books, like Oryx and Crake and Lady Oracle. The easy-nature of Hag-Seed was so refreshing and enjoyable, plus I think it’s amazing how it doesn’t even sound like the voice I usually expect to hear from Atwood. I find it really fascinating how so many diverse voices and stories can come from one writer – I hope that is something I might one day achieve myself.