When I first heard about the Hogarth Series that would product “modern novelizations” of Shakespeare’s work I thought, “Eh. So what. If you rewrite Shakespeare it’s not Shakespeare, it’s yours, and it’s just like any other novel.” As such I’ve avoided them all to date.
I decided to change that because we’ve got a book club at work and I wanted an excuse to read something of at least passing interest to me. When multiple people told me that Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood’s retelling of The Tempest, was the best one to come out so far, was hooked. If I’m going to give the series I try I might as well start with my favorite play.
So glad I did! I’m just about halfway finished with it but I’m very excited to get out a review (and, who we kidding, it gives me another post for Shakspeare Day).
Felix, our director, is in the middle of what’s to be his masterpiece, a production of The Tempest. He likes this play so much he even named his daughter Miranda. Unlike Shakespeare’s story, however, both Felix’s wife and daughter have passed away before the story takes off. But the next part plays out like you’d expect — control of the group is usurped by Tony and Sal, and Felix is “banished” from the theatre scene until he gets a job teaching Shakespeare to prisoners. He even uses the pseudonym “Mr. Duke”, an amusing callback to Prospero as Duke of Milan.
The plot is following along close enough to the original that you have some idea what’s going to happen. Tony and Sal are going to end up in the prison where Mr. Duke will make his triumphant return. I just have no idea what’s going to happen other than that. Our Prospero has no Miranda. This one seems to be all about revenge. What would Prospero have been like if everything else had gone the same, except Miranda had not survived? I think we might have seen the full scope and scale of his power.
While retelling The Tempest this book is also a lesson in The Tempest as Felix walks his prisoners through the finer points of the play. He makes them re-envision Ariel as something other than just “a fairy”. He asks them to find all the “prisons” in the play (apparently there are nine?) and they discuss what form each prison takes, who is imprisoned, and who has captured them. I’m learning lots of new things. I hope she gets back to the question of “is the island by itself magic” because I’ve often wondered about that myself.
I don’t want to spoil much more of the book so I’ll stop here. Suffice to say I’m loving it, and when I’m done with this one I’m going to dig into Jo Nesbo’s new Macbeth next. Definitely recommended.