"Atwood is never less than readable, and she sustains her fantasy with gallant ingenuity."by Jane Shilling / December 15, 2016 / Leave a comment
Hag-Seed: “The Tempest Retold” by Margaret Atwood (Vintage, £16.99)
With its captivating fusion of magic and realism, Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest, has proved a rich source of creative inspiration for artists from Shelley and Auden to Derek Jarman and Thomas Adès. The novelist Margaret Atwood joins this tempestuous company at the invitation of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, whose retellings of Shakespeare’s plays by distinguished authors include Howard Jacobson’s Merchant of Venice and Edward St Aubyn’s forthcoming version of King Lear.
Atwood develops the theme of Prospero’s island as a place of confinement and a crucible for psychological change, setting her novel in a prison where her Prospero, the un-aptly named Felix, takes a job as a literacy teacher, having been brutally ousted from his position as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theater Festival.
The professional humiliation is only the latest in a series of grievous losses: the death of his wife soon after their birth of their only child, Miranda, who herself succumbed to meningitis when she was three. With nothing left to lose, Felix plans an elaborate revenge on the former assistant who engineered his downfall. His aborted Festival production of The Tempest will be staged after all, with a cast of convicts from the Fletcher County Correctional Institute.
Atwood is never less than readable, and she sustains her fantasy with gallant ingenuity. But a faintly dutiful air hangs over this exercise in re-imagination, whose characters, from lovable villains to repulsively respectable political apparatchiks, never quite reflect the rich strangeness of Shakespeare’s original.