Oh my god. How was this THIS good? This book shouldn’t have been this good. The premise sounds insane. A retelling of The Tempest where our Prospero is an exiled theater director setting his own (previously thwarted) adaptation of The Tempest in a corrections facility. It’s the definition of Should Not Work.
Not only does it, it’s one of her best.
Atwood intelligently uses meta text throughout the book, which made this (more than the other Hogarth Shakespeare I’ve read so far) feel more like interpretation rather than a simple retelling of the play. Willie Shakes does love his plays within plays, and having her own Tempest revolve around a staging of The Tempest is clever. Clever can read as preciousness or gimmicky, but it’s Margaret Atwood and we’d be fools to doubt.
The book isn’t just metatextual, it’s practically a fractal; Atwood posits herself as Prospero as surely as her protagonist Felix casts himself in the role. When Felix teaches his students that the magician is imprisoned in the play itself Atwood shows herself to likewise be a Prospero herself. Felix’s questionable choices and intermittent flirtations with bad taste are Atwood’s, but like Felix, the ridiculous pieces look less so on stage when woven into a cogent whole.
I’m doing a poor job of explaining, but trust me, it’s brilliant. There’s so much to unpack, and I feel like I need to reread it to really get all the nuances, but seeing as I nearly cried at the end, I need to let it breathe.