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Hag-Seed: A Novel (Hogarth Shakespeare) Paperback – May 16, 2017
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From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers "In a Dark, Dark Wood" and "The Woman in Cabin 10" comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, "The Lying Game." See more
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"A marvel of gorgeous yet economical prose, in the service of a story that's utterly heartbreaking yet pierced by humor, with a plot that retains considerable subtlety even as the original's back story falls neatly into place."—New York Times Book Review
“What makes the book thrilling, and hugely pleasurable, is how closely Atwood hews to Shakespeare even as she casts her own potent charms, rap-composition included… Part Shakespeare, part Atwood, “Hag-Seed” is a most delicate monster — and that’s “delicate” in the 17th-century sense. It’s delightful.”—The Boston Globe
“Atwood has designed an ingenious doubling of the plot of “The Tempest”: Felix, the usurped director, finds himself cast by circumstances as a real-life version of Prospero, the usurped Duke. If you know the play well, these echoes grow stronger when Felix decides to exact his revenge by conjuring up a new version of “The Tempest” designed to overwhelm his enemies.”—The Washington Post
“A funny and heartwarming tale of revenge and redemption, this latest release in the Hogarth Shakespeare project, whose aim it is to retell Shakespeare's most beloved works through the works of bestselling authors like Anne Tyler and Gillian Flynn, Hag-Seed is a remarkable contribution to the canon.”—Bustle
“Atwood’s canny remix offers multiple pleasures…[marvel] at the ways she changes, updates, and parallels the play’s magic, grief, vengeance, and showmanship.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review
“…Inventive, heartfelt, and swiftly rendered.” –Library Journal, starred review
"Atwood brilliantly pulls off the caper in a short novel that should be assigned to high school students as a hilarious riff on one of Shakespeare's more mystifying plays. It's much more than a retelling; it's an ingenious analysis and critique rolled into one."—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Margaret Atwood's modern retelling is an entertaining romp of revenge, redemption."—Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"A triumph [...] The book illuminates the breadth and depth of the whole play. The troupe's workshops on it fizz with perception as Atwood transmits the pleasurable buzz of exploring a literary masterpiece. There won't be a more glowing tribute to Shakespeare in his 400th anniversary year."–Peter Kemp, Sunday Times
"The novel shines a thrilling new light on The Tempest's themes of revenge and forgiveness [...] as well as making a strong case for art's ability to "set you free" by helping you understand yourself."–Helen Brown, Sunday Telegraph
"Surpassingly brilliant [...] without question the cleverest "neo-Shakespearean novel" I have ever read [...] the learning and the critical analysis are worn exceptionally lightly, always subordinated to wit, invention, characterisation and slick twists of plot [...] wonderfully ingenious."–Jonathan Bate, The Times
“…you don't need to be a Shakespeare geek like me to enjoy Hag-Seed; it's a good story, and will introduce you to the play gently, with Felix himself as your guide.”–NPR Books
“Hag-Seed is a treat. It’s a beautifully constructed adaptation, one that stands on its own but is even richer when read against its source — and can, in turn, enrich its source material. It’s playful and thoughtful, and it singlehandedly makes a good argument for the value of adapting Shakespeare.”–Vox
“Atwood has tremendous fun with Hag-Seed. Those who know the play will especially enjoy her artful treatment of its more poignant storylines. But even someone unfamiliar with Shakespeare will be entertained by this compelling tale of enchantment and second chances, and the rough magic it so delightfully embodies.”-Bookpage
“Readers looking for Atwood’s wit and mastery of language will find it at work here… Atwood more than does justice to the Bard.”-Chicago Review of Books
“One needn’t be a Shakespeare fan in order to love this retelling of The Tempest…This book is funny and wonderful. Highly recommended for Shakespeare lovers and those seeking revenge.”-Seattle Book Review
From the Hardcover edition.
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.
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Top customer reviews
Now consider The Tempest: Magic, monsters, powerful spirits, villains, revenge, royalty, young love, an isolated mystical island, loneliness, suffering and atonement. How could these be blended into a modern novel? You will have to read the novel to see how, but let me assure you, Atwood gets it all in in as clever a conceit as ever I've read. Poet, novelist, and master and lover of the power of English, Atwood's plot and dialogue surprise and delight throughout the novel. To reap the most from this most excellent tale, the reader must be recently familiar with The Tempest. If not, I can heartily recommend downloading or streaming Helen Mirren's "The Tempest."
thanks, ye demi-puppets, Felix addresses them silently, ye
elves of barbed wire, tasers, and strong walls, weak masters
though ye be. As he drives away downhill the gate closes behind
him, locking itself with a metallic thud, Already the air is
darkening; behind him, the searchlights blare into life.
Felix Phillips, renowned theater director fallen on hard times, drives home to his two-room shack after a day rehearsing his production of The Tempest at Fletcher County Correctional Institute. That's right, he is staging Shakespeare in a prison. After being ousted from his post as artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival (think Stratford, Ontario) through the machinations of his once-loyal right-hand man Tony, Felix goes to ground and contemplates revenge. Under a pseudonym, he takes a part-time job as instructor in the Literacy Through Literature program at the prison, where he produces an annual Shakespeare play. This time, his choice is THE TEMPEST, and he intends to use it to turn the tables on those who once deposed him.
By now, I am a confirmed fan of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, which commissions famous novelists to write their own takes on Shakespeare plays. The series started well with Jeanette Winterson's THE GAP OF TIME (THE WINTER'S TALE), then just got better and better with Howard Jacobson's SHYLOCK IS MY NAME (THE MERCHANT OF VENICE), Anne Tyler's VINEGAR GIRL (THE TAMING OF THE SHREW), and now Margaret Atwood's HAG-SEED, the best of the lot. THE TEMPEST, she says, is a play about a man (Prospero) staging a play in order to exact revenge on his adversaries. What more natural (and more Shakespearean) than to add a further layer, and make this adaptation about a wronged director staging this play that itself contains a play within the play? Well, to be honest, there were a few chapters early on when I feared that the approach might be too cute for words. But I forgot such thoughts as soon as Felix entered that prison. For what we get there—and this is the larger part of the book—is a brilliant example not only of Shakespeare interpretation but also of superb teaching. As Felix breaks the play down and works with the prisoners to analyze the characters and themes, I—who have taught Shakespeare for thirty years, directed the show twice, and written my own operatic adaptation of THE TEMPEST—was drop-jawed with amazement. Perhaps Atwood occasionally allows herself to play the professor rather than the novelist, but there is a lot of fun too. For example, Felix's rule that the only swear words allowed in the class are those taken from the play itself. Hence delightful (but insightful) dialogues like the following:
"Caliban should be First Nations," says Red Coyote. "It's obvious.
Got his land stole."
"No way," says PPod. "He's African. Where's Algiers anyway? North
Africa, right? That's where his mother came from. Look on the map, pox brain."
"So, he's a Muslim? I don't whoreson think so." VaMoose, another
"No way that he's smelly-fish white trash, anyways," says Shiv,
glaring at Leggs. "Even part white."
"I score," says Leggs. "You heard the man, fen head, it's final.
So suck it."
"Points off, you swore," says PPod.
"Suck it's not a swear word," says Leggs. "It's only a diss. Everyone
knows that, and the devil take your fingers!"
Because the authorities will not risk bringing the prisoners together to watch a staged performance, Felix builds up his shows on video, which allows for much more flexibility in concept than you would get in a straight play. It also allows him to hijack the showing for the visiting VIPs to his own ends; Tony and his enablers have now become politicians. But while it is fascinating to put together the clues about what Felix intends to do, the actual performance—the springing of Felix's trap—falls curiously flat. The events that are the equivalent of Shakespeare's play, rather than the preparations for it, take only a few chapters, and achieve very little catharsis. It is this more than anything that keeps me from giving this otherwise extraordinary book five stars.
The performance ends some fifty pages before the end of the novel, leaving only the summing up. The two greatest speeches of Shakespeare's Prospero—"Our revels now are ended" and "Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves"—come in this section. It is the moral heart of the play and Shakespeare's legacy as a human being, where revenge gives way to forgiveness, the theatrical magus abjures his magic, and we reenter the real world, leaving the enchanted isle behind. In the fifty pages she has left, can Atwood do anything similar? Not quite. She has some marvelous chapters in which the teams behind each of the characters submit their final reports on what might become of their people after the play ends; there is some brilliant imagination here, but this is Atwood the professor, rather than the novelist. The one thing that I did find very touching comes from what may be Atwood's most original touch of all: that while Prospero was accompanied into exile by his infant daughter Miranda, Felix's own daughter Miranda has died long ago in childhood, leaving him alone. I won't say how Atwood uses this to end her novel, but it was a touch of true humanity in what was otherwise a tongue-in-cheek book. But what a tongue! What cheek!
However, I feel that I’ve failed again. Clearly, the fault is all mine. Atwood’s writing in Hag-Seed was intelligent and sometimes fun, showing a thorough mastery of Shakespeare’s The Tempest,. Unfortunately, I too often felt I was reading a High School Honor’s lesson plan, a question and answer assignment. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – it is after all a proven method for teaching, and even second-rate adjunct English professors like me assign such questions. And Hag-Seed probably would work well for students. But I wanted to read a novel and not a lesson plan. It also felt a little like those questions occasionally listed at the end of contemporary novels, presumably for book groups, maybe to insinuate that the novel will withstand the test of time and appear in a classroom someday. (The Hag-Seed inmates seemed more like superficial high school drama students than criminals.) Maybe I should blame the Hogarth concept for turning novel writing into a classroom assignment. The notion of using “the novel” as a big writing project feels like a setup, sure to fall short.
Clearly, Margaret Atwood is an accomplished writer and despite the Hogarth High School approach, for the most part I enjoyed Hag-Seed.
Most recent customer reviews
Shakespeare (probably) last play, The Tempest, was a genre mixer for him that broke many of his typical was of...Read more