January: Hag-seed

Image result for hag seed atwood

New years, new resolutions – most of them broken by now. Yes, we know the pattern. So why not set another one? Here goes then – I will attempt to post here, at the end of each month, a piece about book(s) read in the preceding 30(ish) days.

And so to begin: as winter held Glasgow in its icy thrall, I found tossed onto my reading shore Margaret Atwood’s novelistic adaptation of The Tempest – one of my all time top plays by Sir William Shakealot (to use my friend M’s coinage).

Canadian Old Luvvy Felix lords it over (or so he thinks) – his theatrical domain in the bubbling bubble of an arts town by the sea of Makeshiweg. Little does he know his lieutenant Tony (always nice to find your namesake cast as a prince of evil) is plotting to depose him – seeing the perfect opportunity before Felix’s self-indulgent staging of – wait for it – The Tempest, starring himself as Prospero complete with a robe made out of stitched together animal toys.

This play within a novel never happens – 12 years pass – but then another opportunity presents itself in the form of a job as Arts tutor in a prison- and Felix’s chance to get his long-awaited revenge, as he stages a fresh Tempest with a cast of inspired miscreants.

It’s hard to see how anyone could have done a better job of making a novel of The Tempest than Atwood has done with Hag-seed. Her knowledge and love of the original play shines through, getting to the heart of that most unclassifiable of dramas, a melancholy comedy in which the most memorable character – Caliban – receives no resolution. A metaphor for Caribbean colonialism in its earliest days, it’s not hard to see why Atwood chose it as the one to adapt. And how she adapts, producing a brilliant, coruscating satire on the greasy meeting of arts and politics, while still capturing the emotion an aging man’s mourning of his daughter – and last desperate attempts to set things right.

A fine way to start the year in books.


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