Book Review: Hag-Seed

“None of them was willing to be a girl,” he said. “You can see why not.”

“I know, right? I don’t blame them,” she said with a hard edge to her voice. “Being a girl is the pits, trust me.”

It took me a little longer than usual to read Hag-Seed, the Shakespeare retelling by novelist icon Margaret Atwood. It started slowly, and took a while to get into the thick of the plot. By the time the play really starts, so to speak, it really enraptured me. I’ve never read The Tempest – I think, like most people, I haven’t read any Shakespeare except the stuff I was forced to read in school/university. But I loved Atwood’s retelling, and the messages she was able to convey.

Reading this novel felt like being in English class, in the best way. It felt like examining Shakespeare with a comb, and having brighter, more intelligent people than me point out the intricacies of the play that I hadn’t recognised. It’s lovely to read something and then discuss it, and that’s really what Atwood’s retelling was doing. It was sitting down with a diverse group of people, and listening to their opinions on the play, and what it meant, and who was bad, and who was good.

There are only two (or maybe three, depending on your definition) female characters in this novel, but of course Atwood throws in her feminist ideology (see the quote, above). And sentiments about race, class, and power structures are touched upon.

I am eager to read more of the Shakespeare retellings, published by Hogarth Shakespeare (a company set up by Virginia Woolf and Leonard Woolf). There are already novels by Jeanette Winterson, Jo Nesbo, and Anne Tyler, and there will be a Hamlet retelling by Gillian Flynn. I’ve already added Winterson’s Winter Tale to my TBR, and I’ll definitely check out the others too.

After a slow start, I really enjoyed this book, so I gave it 4 stars.


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