Hag-Seed is the fourth in line of a series of Shakespeare-retellings by renowned authors. Atwood, as could be expected, has given her own twist to The Tempest. Her main character Felix is a stage director who is based on the character of Prospero, The Tempest is the play that broke and then re-made Felix’s career. There are aspects of Hag-Seed I really like a lot. Felix for one is the prototype of a conceited arrogant stage director who just cannot fathom that the plebs might not go for his ever so experimental and clever interpretations of Shakespeare. Even when he is manipulated out of the festival that he made a success he does not blame his own attitude; the fact that he is brilliant is not open to discussion. Two rather superb additions add a layer of depth to the personality of Felix. His deceased daughter Miranda joins Felix in his self-chosen exile. At the moment you start to fear for Felix’s sanity a single casual remark makes clear he does realize she is dead. Growing older and broke he accepts a job as a teacher at a prison. His unique approach is a downright success: the inmates cannot wait to join his plays. When the person responsible for his downfall is to visit a play at the prison Felix realizes his time for revenge has finally come. Whether he will scoop to the man’s level or will take revenge more subtly is left in the open almost to the end.
As far as I am concerned the novel has only one weak spot. After The Tempest has been performed Atwood / Felix has the inmates give their view on what would have happened to the characters they played after the play had ended. Though their ideas are highly original I felt I was being taught a lesson: watch and admire the way inmates without a formal education can form a well-based opinion. I have my doubts as to what this chapter adds. Atwood might better have gone on to the moment Felix can take up his previous life as the festival’s director. Taking his leave of daughter Miranda is an absolute thing of beauty. And now we just have to wait for Kenneth Branagh to play Felix and direct Hag-Seed.