I’ve only read a couple of Margaret Atwood novels: “The Handmaid’s Tale” which I thought was brilliant and “The Blind Assassin” which I struggled to finish. I downloaded “Hag Seed” as a 99p Kindle Deal of the Day because I recognised the author and thought it would be a good idea to read something else by her.
I missed the front matter of the book and didn’t know about the Shakespeare Project so was perplexed as I started reading as to what exactly was going on. It seemed like a very implausible storyline and I almost stopped reading. But the strong character in the leading role kept me going and I googled the title and then the penny dropped.
If you’re committed to the notion that Shakespeare is for everyone, this novel is a remarkable testament. Set in a modern-day prison, most of the literature students are unlikely to have encountered Shakespeare at school. Their teacher is Felix, a theatre director with an imaginative take on performance, somewhat deranged by his own life experiences and intent on revenge. Felix teaches Shakespeare through preparation for a video performance of that year’s play (adapted and re-written where required by the students) to all the other inmates and the staff of the prison. It always goes down well with the audience. Some of the actors are repeat attendees at the class and some are new recruits. This year’s play is “The Tempest” which Felix struggles to sell to the class but his personal motivation is strong. And he’s determined to play Prospero himself.
I “did” this play for Eng Lit A level and have seen it performed on stage three times, once with Paul Schofield as Prospero. However, it’s a long time since I read the play so about a third of the way through “Hag Seed”, I stopped off and re-read “The Tempest”. (Which I enjoyed much more than I had when eighteen. Then, the play was just exam fodder and learning enough to get the required grade for the subject was the only objective.)
“Hag Seed” is a quite detailed and accessible analysis of the play. The way the prison inmates adopt Shakespearean cursing is hilarious. The parallels between the actual play and the storyline of the novel are cleverly developed although the “what happened next” section at the end is a bit lumpen. In addition to Felix, the supporting cast are strong and well developed too. It wasn’t a “can’t put it down” sort of novel but one that was interesting, informative, engaging and highly entertaining.
Overall, a good read and I’m definitely trying some more Margaret Atwood novels.
Image credit: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons