Book Review: Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_hag-seedIn my 35 years, I’ve learned a thing or two about life. Put cold water in the pot after making porridge or you’ll be scrubbing concrete. Set up bill payments to go out on payday so you don’t run out of money and have to pay late fees. Eat before you start drinking, especially if you’re mixing beer and tequila, because no matter how huge and delicious the 2am kebab, you’ll feel terrible all day tomorrow.

And don’t get excited about a new Margaret Atwood as you might be setting yourself up for a major disappointment.

I mean, it would have been really, really hard not to get excited about a re-telling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest by the psychologically shrewd, mesmerising writer of Cat’s Eye and The Handmaid’s Tale and other novels I devoured and recommended to everyone who’d listen. I feel like you can’t hold it against me. It’s, like, a natural law: Margaret Atwood’s an objectively great novelist.

But with Hag-Seed it’s as if we’ve snuck into her study, rummaged through her bottom desk-drawer, and read an early draft that she did to get Ideas out of her system before starting on the actual book.

If I hadn’t known who wrote it, I wouldn’t have guessed in a million years who did. Not that Atwood’s books are, or should be, all the same – but Hag-Seed, for me, was missing so many of the things I read Atwood for. Sub-plots and layers, and characters that feel so real you could slap them. Themes that are hidden and smart and unsaid. Ideas that are a bit too clever for me but compel me on anyway because they’re wrapped up in writing that’s effortless and magnetic.

I’m so sorry. Who do I think I am.

Maybe I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t like this book. Maybe I’m the most special of snowflakes!

You’ll probably like it. Flash reviewers do. People are raving about it all over the internet, in The Guardian and New York Times and Washington Post and Publishers Weekly, using words like “ingenious”, “delightful”, “funny” and even goddamn “triumph”.

Mate, I don’t agree. If I were being forced to describe it in those kind of terms, I’d use “obvious”, “average”, “a bit lame” and kinda “forgettable”. Sorry. I found one – just one – review that was more in line with my feels: Kirkus Reviews said, “the bulk of the novel can feel like spending some 300 pages in a high school English class.” I loved high school English, but, yeah. Wouldn’t want to be back there. Wouldn’t want it to fail to live up to my memories, like a disappointing book by Margaret Atwood.

Reviewed by Jane Arthur

Hag-Seed
by Margaret Atwood
Published by Hogarth
ISBN 9781781090237

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