Hag-seed by Margret Atwood

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★★★★

Meet Felix, an avantgarde theatre director, whose wife and young daughter has recently die. He is fired from the theatre festival where he has been working for the past twenty years. It is clear that his dismissal is due to the manipulations of Felix’ assistant Toni, who wants to use the position as a theatre director as a stepping stone into the political world. To Felix this is the end of everything, not just his career but his personal life. By producing The Tempest, he was going to bring his little daughter Miranda back to life, if only on stage. For the next years Felix plots his revenge on those who fired him. And his method getting vengeance? By playing The Tempest in a prison. Are you confused as to how putting up a play will help Felix? Don’t worry, you will get it as you go along in the book.

I am a big fan of Margret Atwood, although I have never read any of her novels before. Some of her short stories have been a part of some English language exams I took in high school, but I have seen the tv-shows Alias Graceand The Handmaids Talewhich are based on her books. To me it seemed that Atwood must be an excellent author considering how fantastic these shows are. And I was right, Hag-seed proves that she is an author par excellence.

She is a master in the art of conveying as much as possible with few words and simple sentences. Whereas in many other novels, a character needs full paragraphs or even a chapter to be introduced, Atwood acquaint the readers with her characters in a sentence or two. Felix, his enemies, the inmates of Fletcher prison: Bam! By the magic of a few Atwoodian words, the person is on the stage, ready to entertain us. Perhaps this accounts for the easily read the book is? I began reading the book at six o’clock in the afternoon and had completed it by four hours later. A lovely easy read.

The person of Felix is perhaps one of the more entertaining bits of this book. In the beginning he seems monstrous: barely any teeth, seeding with hatred, angry and mad. After his daughter dies he continues to interact with her in his mind. He talks to her, helps her with her homework, borrows children’s books at the library that he reads to her. In his mind, he is keeping her safe and loved in the house with him. He sort of knows that this is a fantasy, but at the same time not. At one point in the novel I started to wonder, is Felix mad or has he found a great coping technique. By “keeping his daughter alive”, he has also found a reason to keep himself alive. He must work because he has a child to care for. He must stay alive so that she can be alive. Atwood does explore some of the problems with Felix’ interactions with his daughter. But what is the harm in his fantasy when it helps to sustain him?

Felix works in Fletcher prison as an English teacher. And for a few years now, he and a few of the inmates have put up a Shakespearian play in the new year. This year, it is The Tempest– a play about a group of people imprisoned on an island and trying to escape. And the characters in Hag-seed are also trying to escape. The prisoners are trying to escape the boredom of prison life and Felix is trying to escape his self-imposed prison, a prison of constant loneliness, grief and no other goal than revenge. Literature becomes a way of escape for them all.

Is it right for Felix to use the prisoners? Even though they have a good time being actors, they do not know Felix is using them as tools in his plan. Although they have all committed crimes previously, should they be manipulated into helping Felix take a rather mean revenge? In an attempt to defend Prospero, Felix argues, at one point, that Prospero really has no other choice. He is trying to save himself and no one really come to any harm. Perhaps he is right.

 

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