HAGSEED by Margaret Atwood

I have always been a bit terrified of Margaret Atwood and what she writes; reading four of her books over the years I thought was sufficient reason to not need to read any more. And then I read a review of this novel, her latest, part of the series whereby well-known authors are rewriting Shakespeare's plays. This novel is a rework of The Tempest, a play I have always found a bit weird and I had to do a quick Google for a plot summary. 

Well, I can safely say that this is a fantastic retelling of the story, moving with great skill and fluidity between the basics of the play and the modern day version. I loved this, just loved it, laughing out loud in parts at the wicked humour,  the nuanced workings of the relationships between the various characters, how clever it is to put 'a play in a play in a novel' as the Guardian reviewer noted, and how finely Ms Atwood has incorporated the story of the play into the story of the novel.

The book opens twelve years after the middle aged Felix lost his job as theatre director at an arts centre. Every year he would stage ambitious versions of Shakespeare's plays, until he was out manoeuvred by the slimy Tony who, twelve years later, is now Minister for Heritage. Coinciding tragically for Felix at the time of his job loss, were the deaths in quick succession of his wife, and his three year old daughter Miranda. He was also planning a fantastic wonderful version of The Tempest for that year's season, but had his plans cruelly stopped. Can you already see the connections to the original play? And this is also one of the joys of the novel - it is not at all difficult to relate the modern characters and story to the Shakespearian characters, or the loosely based plot.

Now Felix lives alone in a run down cottage, alone expect for the spiritual presence of his daughter. For a few years he has been running a Literacy through Literature programme at the local correctional facility, working with a bunch of low security prisoners funded by a government funded and approved trial under the auspices of none other than the Ministry of Heritage. This disparate group has successfully performed a  few Shakespeare plays - Julius Caesar, Richard III and MacBeth. With such successes under his belt, and a core group of actors, Felix can now see that the moment is perfect to orchestrate his revenge on Tony and his minions, and to also stage his glorious play.

It is just magic, heart warming and uplifting to see how Felix rediscovers himself, how he is able to turn a bunch of semi-literate prisoners into Shakespeare aficionados, how they interpret, prepare and stage such a play as The Tempest, and how sweet revenge can be. Brilliant.

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