Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
Okay, real-talk. This and Homegoing are my top two contenders for Best Book of 2016, with Sofia Samatar’s The Winged Histories and Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Towers Falling in a close second, with John Lewis’s last March volume rounding out the top five. 2016 has been a crappy year, but there have been some remarkable books. Let’s talk about what made this so extraordinary.
When I heard that Margaret Atwood was adapting The Tempest, I was so excited. The Tempest is a rich and troubling play. I knew she could do it justice. She delves well into the literary pool and makes something so famous original and reinvented. And what makes Hag-Seed remarkable is the structure of the story. Atwood uses the story of The Tempest to retell the story of The Tempest. Felix has long been a director of a Shakespearean theater festival, in the tradition of the Stratford Festival of Canada (or the festival in Slings and Arrows. Sidenote: if you’ve never seen Slings and Arrows, you simply must. It’s Shakespeare nerdery at its finest). He is ousted by his assistant. His wife and daughter are swiftly taken from him, and, alone, he turns to exile with only the fantasy of his daughter still alive for company. He eventually takes a job teaching theater and literature to prison inmates, and thus arises the tradition of the annual play. When his former assistant and other bureaucrats come to tour the prison, he decides to strike and put on the greatest performance his inmates have ever seen.
Leave it to Margaret Atwood to create something funny and dark and heartbreakingly beautiful at once. She’s a prolific writer, for which I am grateful, but I think this is the best one she’s put out for a while. Felix’s relationship with his dead daughter is both sad and profound, and the way she resolves it is beautifully touching without feeling forced or insincere. I’m already excited about the re-read, and look forward into diving into it again and again.