Previously Read: Hag-Seed

“What he couldn’t have in life he might still catch sight of through his art: just a glimpse, from the corner of his eye.” — Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood

In her masterful modern retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Margaret Atwood introduces us to Felix, a foppish, lovable theater director whose life has all but unravelled. Felix’s wife died in childbirth several years ago, followed by his beloved daughter, Miranda. He has made plans to direct and star in a brilliant rendition of The Tempest that will — all at once — stun the crowds, set new standards of genius, and bring his sweet Miranda back to life.

Before he can do this, however, he is fired from his post as Creative Director in a backstabbing scheme spearheaded by his closest friend. In response, Felix retreats to a hermit-style life in an old, abandoned house, where he takes nine years to work up the courage to act on his plot of revenge.

Even at his lowest points, Felix remains delightfully laughable. His dramatic, beautifully worded insults live up to Shakespearean standards: “The snake-like subterfuge!” “Stupendous betrayal!” “Devious, twisted bastard!” His modest self-obsession is irritatingly relatable: “This is a joke, right?” we hear him thinking while he is being fired, “Without me, the whole Festival would go up in flames!” And his fiery personality is loveable though mad: “‘I am never irritable!’ Felix shouted”.

Despite the sheer enormity of suffering, Atwood brings Felix to life right before your nose. You may have thought — like me — that it would be hard to relate to a middle-aged man who’s grieving the loss of his wife, his child, and his career. But that was before you met Felix, a man of passion, a man with base urges, man who has to wake up every morning and brush his false teeth.

This book captivated me instantly. I flew through the pages, breathlessly invested in the plot, and made it to the end of the book before realizing the scope and depth of what I’d just digested. Tucked into a riveting plot of revenge is a very real story of grief, loss, and reconciliation.

I’ll leave you with the following quote, one of my all-time favorites from Atwood, and an accurate description of the taut relationship in Hag-Seed between man and madness.

“…but didn’t the best art have desperation at its core? Wasn’t it always a challenge to Death? A defiant middle finger on the edge of the abyss?”