My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“Hag-Seed” is an understated feat–it is a retelling, in prose, of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” that also incorporates “The Tempest” play. It is like a hidden picture cartoon where you can always get a sense of the larger picture, but sometimes, if you squint or remember to think of it, you can see the hidden design. It’s incredible.
As a big fan of Atwood’s “The Penelopiad,” I expected this retelling to be like that–a new take on the old story, a new perspective. It is not. It is really just an updated, realistic, direct revision of “The Tempest.” That is in no way a downside; the layers of this story are intricate and stunning. Just know what to expect.
You may want to brush up on your Shakespeare before you start, or at least jump to the summary of “The Tempest” that Atwood has included after the epilogue. “The Tempest” is one of my very favorite Shakespeare plays and I was still surprised as some parts of the story unfurled.
The prose follows artsy/unhinged Felix Phillips, our Prospero and an artistic director for a popular theater festival who is unjustly removed from his position and set adrift in life, without purpose. He mourns the sudden death of his young daughter, Miranda (who takes alternately the role of Miranda and Ariel). He is so deep in grief, in fact, that he talks to and imagines his daughter is there. He nursed his hate for 12 years before being gifted an opportunity for revenge so perfect he must take it.
It’s wonderfully rendered and I can’t recommend it enough.