Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed: A Novel is a wonderful concept, more-than-ably written. It is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, woven around a prison production of, well, Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Hag-Seed is one of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, in which famous modern novelists write their own takes on Shakespeare’s plays (the series so far includes Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time (The Winter’s Tale), Howard Jacobson’s Shylock is My Name (The Merchant of Venice), Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl (The Taming of the Shrew), and Tracy Chevalier’s New Boy (Othello)). Atwood’s effort encourages me to explore the others. . . so why did I find it hard to trudge through Hag-Seed until the last sixty pages or so?
I love The Tempest. And I loved Atwood’s inventive take on the story, making it about an “exiled” director of Shakespeare’s plays who stages Shakespeare’s play as a way of exacting revenge for his exile. But for most of the book, my interest in the characters and story was tepid. Maybe I just encountered it at the wrong time, but I think it might have profited from about a 25% cut in length. And so much of it was truly inspired (such as a riddle about the nine “prisons” depicted in the play), but I wish I had cared more about the characters. And I was surprised, given the title, that Caliban (the “Hag-seed”) was largely a non-entity in the plot.
Still, I’m glad to have read it and, as I said, encouraged to discover the others in the Hogarth Shakespeare Series.