...[a] beautifully executed, bracingly original fourth novel in the Hogarth Shakespeare series ... What makes the book thrilling, and hugely pleasurable, is how closely Atwood hews to Shakespeare even as she casts her own potent charms, rap-composition included ... Like a masterful director, she has found ways to animate The Tempest afresh — even, remarkably, the parts that are always deadly boring — yet she has also traced glittering new patterns in its air.
...a brilliant retelling of The Tempest that is as enjoyable to read as it must have been for Prospero to watch the storm he created ... While there are some wild moments in Hag-Seed, Atwood’s writing is so skillful that it is easy to suspend our disbelief ... [a] brilliant tale.
...the decision to stage The Tempest within Hag-Seed can be read as something of a failure of imagination on Atwood’s part. It also marks an unfortunate transition. The novel to this point is a marvel of gorgeous yet economical prose, in the service of a story that’s utterly heartbreaking yet pierced by humor, with a plot that retains considerable subtlety even as the original’s back story falls neatly into place. But the prison production of The Tempest leads to some of the book’s clunkiest elements ... Hag-Seed is at its eerie, enchanting best when Atwood dwells on Felix’s relationship with his lost daughter.
Atwood gives over several chapters to Felix’s discussions of The Tempest, and despite the essentially academic content of these scenes, they’re delightful ... Although Atwood acknowledges this painful issue in passing, it never attains the emotional weight one expects given her cast of prisoners and the racial taint of modern incarceration. Instead, this is, weirdly, a revision of The Tempest in which the monster-slave is even more defanged than in the original story ... And the book’s erratic tone is exacerbated further by a tragedy that Atwood has inserted into Shakespeare’s plot ... an exercise like this volume feels limited to teachers and students of The Tempest. Others are likely to find that for all its clever echoes and allusions, the whole production melts into air, into thin air.
Atwood is at her bewitching best in this gripping tale of betrayal and revenge ... perhaps the most interesting departure from Shakespeare’s plot in Atwood’s Hag-Seed is the author’s development of The Tempest’s prison metaphor.
...this is written with such gusto and mischief that it feels so much like something Atwood would have written anyway. The joy and hilarity of it just sing off the page. It’s a magical eulogy to Shakespeare, leading the reader through a fantastical reworking of the original but infusing it with ironic nods to contemporary culture, thrilling to anyone who knows The Tempest intimately, but equally compelling to anyone not overly familiar with the work ... riotous, insanely readable and just the best fun.
...a really good adaptation, like Atwood’s, can do the same thing as a really good and inventive staging of a play: It can tease out nuances and resonances from its source material, so that you begin to see the original work in an entirely new light ... That’s not to say that Hag-Seed is perfect. Most troublingly, its title suggests that it’s all about Caliban, but the novel fails to live up to that promise in any compelling way. Still, Atwood’s thoughtfulness and playfulness keep Hag-Seed from ever getting boring ... All told, Hag-Seed is a marvelous and thoughtful adaptation ... Yet there’s a certain emptiness in Atwood’s novel where Caliban should be.
Make no mistake that Atwood’s novel?—?like any good retelling or reworking, or new version of a tale?—?is a basket of Easter eggs. But as the reworking of an archetype, it succeeds on its own because of how Atwood employs the material she’s given?—?as a compelling story in its own right, undeniably augmented by the underlying magic of the original, and made better for being built upon such rich a rich foundation ... Through Felix’s delusions, Atwood asks important questions about the nature of theater and belief ... If there’s a quibble to be had with Hag-Seed, it’s the lack of depth Atwood gives the players, Felix’s prisoners.
The play-within-a-novel-inspired-by-a-play format could easily get mired in its competing narratives and characterizations, but Atwood skillfully navigates the layers using the inmates’ study of Shakespeare as a means to explore the novel’s dynamics ... Just as with a play, a certain willingness to suspend disbelief is required to enjoy this novel. With the bulk of the action taking place in a prison, the constant good fortune Felix possesses in acquiring outside materials and getting privacy is a stretch. But it’s one that works.
Unfortunately, Margaret Atwood plays it incredibly safe in Hag-Seed ... Hag-Seed is almost painfully predictable. Felix’s dissection of the play for his students, and Atwood’s readers, leaves little to uncover in the reading of the story, ultimately letting the air out of the more climactic moments ... Despite the simplicity of Atwood’s retelling, there are secrets left to be discovered. Readers looking for Atwood’s wit and mastery of language will find it at work here. It’s a shame we don’t see a reach for something more groundbreaking in Hag-Seed, though perhaps that’s not what we look for in reinventions of Shakespeare, and Atwood more than does justice to the Bard.
...an exuberant revisioning of The Tempest that teems with twins and doubles ... Hag-Seed is the latest in a series of novels from Hogarth Press in which leading writers rework Shakespeare, and it is far and away the most successful to date, in part because Atwood never loses sight of the original ... Hag-Seed displays Atwood’s inventiveness at its shining best, a novel that enchants on its own terms and returns you to the enchantments of the original.
...we get the sociological angle of teaching Shakespeare in prison, in the context of a play about prisoners. As a metafictional conceit, it’s clever. As a real-world endeavor, it’s admirable. But as drama, it fails to completely connect. Perhaps it’s because none of the numerous characters get as much attention as Felix, and thus are largely reduced to their one or two recognizable characteristics. We don’t get to know them as people ... Neither the idea of Caliban, with all its ripe postcolonial and racial implications, nor the character himself have much impact on Atwood’s story ... The book is fun and readable. There are some delicious turns of phrase but it doesn’t necessarily draw new conclusions about its source material.
Atwood brilliantly pulls off the caper in a short novel that should be assigned to high school students as a hilarious riff on one of Shakespeare’s more mystifying plays. It’s much more than a retelling; it’s an ingenious analysis and critique rolled into one.