By Margaret Atwood
Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His productions have amazed and confounded. Now he's staging a Tempest like no other: not only will it boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds. Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. And also brewing revenge.
After twelve years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here, Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It's magic! But will it remake Felix as his enemies fall? Margaret Atwood's novel take on Shakespeare's play of enchantment, revenge and second chances leads us on an interactive, illusion-ridden journey filled with new surprises and wonders of its own.
First let me start by saying that you don’t have to be an expert on The Tempest to enjoy Hag-seed, I haven’t read it since I was 12 but I loved this book.
I don’t know what I can say about Atwood’s writing style that hasn’t been said a million times already, her dry wit and general writing style make all her work a pleasure to read and this was no exception.
Atwood’s retelling of this famous book made me want to re-read The Tempest and many of Shakespeare’s other works and surely that was the point of Vintage’s Hogarth Shakespeare Initiative.
Initially, Felix is an incredibly annoying character and you can almost see why he was betrayed in the first place. However, as the novel progressed I felt myself feeling sorry for him and even wanting his crazy plan for revenge to work.
This was our first introduction to Felix:
Felix brushes his teeth. Then he brushes his other teeth, the false ones, and slides them into his mouth. Despite the layer of pink adhesive he’s applied, they don’t fit very well: perhaps is mouth is shrinking. He smiles: the illusion of a smile. Pretense fakery, but who’s to know.
How he has fallen. How deflated. How reduced. Cobbling together this bare existence, living in a hovel, ignored in a forgotten backwater; whereas Tony, that self-promoting, posturing little shit, gallivants about with the grandees, and swill champagne, and gobbles caviar and larks tongue.
Tony was his right hand man at one time until he went behind his back and stole his job.
That devious, twisted bastard, Tony, is Felix’s own fault or mostly his fault. Over the past twelve years, he’s often blamed himself. He gave Tony too much scope, he didn’t supervise, he didn’t look over Tony’s nattily suited, padded, pinstriped shoulder. He didn’t pick up on the clues, as anyone with half a brain and two ears might have done. Worse, he’d trusted the evil-hearted, social-clambering, Machiavellian foot-licker.
Despite Felix’s faults the reader can’t help but feel for him, particularly when we learn about his tragic family history. His wife, Nadia, shortly after childbirth and his daughter Miranda died shortly after that.
Felix’s enduring love for his daughter is his one redeeming feature.
He’d been entranced with her from the start. He’d hovered, he’d marvelled. So perfect, her fingers, her toes, her eyes! Such a delight.
Miranda died from Meningitis at the age of three while he was rehearsing a play and by the time he got to the hospital it was too late.
What to do with such sorrow? It was like an enormous black cloud boiling up over the horizon. No: it was like a blizzard. No: it was like nothing he could put into language.
When Felix is betrayed he is working on a very special version of The Tempest that he has worked very hard to perfect.
“This Tempest would be brilliant: the best thing he’d ever done. He had been -he realises now- unhealthily obsessed with it…But more than that, because inside the charmed bubble he was creating, his Miranda would live again.
All the more crushing for him when it had fallen apart”
After the humiliation of being thrown out of the theatre Felix decides to find a little place in the middle of nowhere to hide out. He even changes his name so no one can find him. For twelve years he hides out until bit by hit he is ready to emerge from his self-imposed exile.
“First he needed to get his Tempest back. He had to stage it, some how, somewhere. His reasons were beyond theatrical; they had nothing to do with his reputation, his career – none of that. Quite simply Miranda must be released from her glass coffin; she must be given a life. But how to it, where to find the actors? Actors did not grow on trees, numerous though the trees were around his hovel.
Second, he wanted revenge. He longed for it. He daydreamed about it.”
Whilst he was living in isolation Felix was able to convince himself that Miranda was still alive and constructs a whole new reality for them.
“But it was only a short distance from wistful daydreaming to the half-belief that she was still there with him, only invisible. Call it conceit, a whimsy, a piece of acting: he didn’t really believe it, but he engaged in this non-reality as if it were real.”
I loved the way Atwood portrayed Felix’s grief.
This was a brilliant read as usual.
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