Hagseed: Shakespeare in the Prison

Hag-Seed is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series in which popular authors give a Shakespeare's plays a modern reimagining. Hag-Seed is Margaret Atwood's take on The Tempest. The actual play itself has an important role in the book. In fact, Hag-Seed is a play within a play within a play.

Felix is so involved with directing plays for Makeshiweg Theatre Festival that he doesn't notice that his assistant is stabbing him in the back until he's been fired. Part of the reason Felix is overly focused on his work is to distract himself from the recent death of his daughter Miranda. The firing is the last straw for Felix. He hides himself away in a shack in the country where all he does is fixate on his woes.

Years go by and eventually Felix feels he needs to join the world again. He's been talking to himself and an imaginary version of Miranda so long that he's beginning to think she's real. He takes a job teaching literacy to inmates of a local prison. He does it his way, by putting on productions of Shakespeare's plays. The men enjoy the plays. They get to make to them their own, by making each one modern and relatable to their situations. The program is such a success the Heritage Minister will be present to watch the latest production. Felix chooses The Tempest.

Among the visiting mucky-mucks is Felix's old assistant, Tony. Tony has moved up in the world and into the workings of the federal government. He has ambitions to lead the party. Felix sees an opportunity to enact his revenge fantasies, and with the help of his merry band of gentlemen, put on a version of The Tempest no one will soon forget.

This is the second book by Atwood I've read in a year that involves prisons. Thankfully no sex robots in this one. I've never read The Tempest and thought I'd need to at least watch the play. No worries about that. The play's plot and characters are discussed in detail throughout. I haven't read the original yet and could still tell you what it's about.

Hag-Seed has doubles throughout. Felix is Prospero, obviously, and Miranda is both the imagined daughter and the actress who plays the character. Tony is the Evil Bro Antonio. The magical island where anything can happen is the prison but also the shack Miranda haunts. Felix is often a pretentious windbag, but he's just a gentle old man who suffered greatly too. The prisoners are hard men whose morals are questionable but can empathize with characters created centuries ago.

I enjoyed Hag-Seed. Partly because I love elaborate revenge plots. It's also funny and touching, but not melodramatic. The only part that bored me a little were the songs and when the inmates discuss the characters' futures. It got a little long.

A well done job by Margaret Atwood!

About the Audio: Canadian actor R.H. Thomson narrates Hag-Seed. You might remember him from Road to Avonlea. He's perfect for it, being a great theatre actor and all. He gives each character a distinct personality. It is a little disconcerting hearing a 69 year old man rap though. 
Thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

Hag-Seed (Hogarth Shakespeare)

Two Short Audiobook Reviews

The Arrangements

I listened to The Arrangements before the US election. It seemed cute at the time. It's unfortunate that the political climate now distorts my view of this short story. Still, I feel that I must say something about it since it is a review book.

First, I think Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an amazing writer, and her choice to show the fever of the US election through Melania Trump's eyes is quite clever. She takes her inspiration from Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway.

Melania decides to buy the flowers herself, hoping to get some attention from her husband. She's planning a party for her parents. This party is important to her and having her husband there is a high priority. Throughout the day, she also ponders her husband's political ambitions, skillfully avoids family drama, and strokes her husband's ego.

Melania is a curious figure. What if one day your husband suddenly decided he was going to run for president? That's what happened to her. What does she really make of all of this? Adichie imagines it for us.

Like I said, it was very entertaining at the time. Maybe not so much now. You can read it for free from the New York Times. The audio version, which I'm reviewing here, is narrated by January LaVoy.

The Clothing of Books

Jhumpa Lahiri muses over book covers, specifically of her own books. Jhumpa doesn't have much control over the covers' designs. She prefers no covers, but still she has her favorites. She also has doubts about many of the covers, and finds a few problematic.

The Clothing of Books didn't blow my socks off. It was only okay. It might make an interesting essay, but that's about it.

The Clothing of Books was translated from Italian, and narrated by the author.

Thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for the review copies. All opinions are my own.

Creepy New England Houses Full of Ghosts: I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives In the House

For inexplicable reasons, I watched the Netflix movie I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives In the House... alone... at night. This movie (let's call it IATPT for brevity) is the thinking woman's horror movie.

The opening scene in IATPT is a black screen, a blurry figure of a woman appears, while Ruth Wilson talks about death and ghosts. When Ruth (Lily is her character), appears on the scene she is arriving at the beautiful New England home of a successful horror novelist. She's a nurse and is there to take care of this woman in her final days of dementia. Lily tells us she is the pretty thing that lives in the house, she just turned 28, and won't live to see 29.

So, why watch if we already know these things? First, to see how Lily meets her end. Will she trip over that rug at the bottom of the stairs? Succumb to the poisonous mold growing on the wall? Or strangle herself with that giant phone cord?

It also seems that Lily is not the only Pretty Thing living in the house. At first, Lily doesn't know that she and her charge are not the only inhabitants of the house. The house has a dark past, and a connection to one of the horror novelist's most successful books "The Lady Who Lives In the Walls."

IATPT is a movie that relies on shots of darkened doors and weird music. Not a lot happens. If my husband was at home, he wouldn't watch this anyway. He'd get bored. I can see why Netflix made this and not regular TV or film. It's got that independent movie vibe. Lily mostly sneaks around this big house, looking in drawers, and not turning enough lights on. The only people she, rarely, interacts with are the novelist and the executor of the estate. She just wanders around muttering to herself.

I would put the movie's time period at around the early 1980s from Lily's wardrobe and the few glimpses of cars in the film. I'm not sure of the legalities of leaving a single nurse alone with a client without breaks or vacation at this time, but it seems pretty sketchy even for then. I don't think the VON would approve.

I can't tell you how much I wish the novels of the author were real. Lily has never read them because "they're too scary." They sound right up my alley. There is the Shirley Jackson-esque quality to the novelist. Flashbacks show her typing in front of a big window while puffing away on a cigarette. Besides the book Lily ends up reading, there is one titled, "Underwater Housewife." Why can't that be real?!!

I have some things to say about the other Pretty Thing that are spoilery. I'll spoil them here (highlight if you wish to read them)...

Is the guy with mutton chops Polly's husband or a jealous suitor? Are they the couple that disappeared after the wedding? Why did he kill her? Why is she wandering around blindfolded? It's all so weird. I feel that the book would tell us more.

So I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives In the House is not your usual horror movie. It's not really that much of a horror movie even. It is spooky. That creepy music- the continuous hum that reminded me of a furnace running- was getting to me. I wouldn't go into expecting big scares either. I still enjoyed it and am still thinking about it.

If you're a Shirley Jackson fan, I think you'd like watching this one. Check out the trailer.

What the world needs now is Hygge?

So, things look bleak out there. Also, it's November. November is so blah. I feel like I could use some hygge. Do you know what hygge is?

Hygge is a Danish concept, meaning "cosiness." The Danes explain it here. I really like the idea of hygge, especially since I live where the darkness of winter tends to get people down.

There's a lot of reasons to feel upset, scared, and confused. But you got to take care of yourself. Get yourself some good self-care. Maybe hygge can be a part of your own regime. I'm going to dedicate the next few months to hygge*. I'm going to indulge in warm beverages (tonight I'm drinking a hot apple cider), comforting hobbies, and, of course, cozy reads.

I'm not sure what I'm going to read yet, but I have some suggestions for you.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. Valancy breaks free of her overbearing family and finds herself.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. A girl and her grandmother spend a summer together on an isolated island.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. A woman goes to live on a relative's farm. High jinks ensue.

Relish by Lucy Knisley. Fooooooooood!

These are books that make me feel warm inside.

What are your favorite comfort reads? I need some suggestions!

Grab a blanket, light some candles, snuggle a favorite pet, and join me for some hygge reading.

*I feel okay co-opting hygge since my grandmother was Danish. 

Lifestyles of the Super Privileged: We Could Be Beautiful

Catherine West has done it all and now she wants to get married. It seems that finding a husband is as easy as the rest of her life has been. She is a trust fund baby who never had to worry about money. She meets William Stockton at an art gallery and after a brief courtship they are engaged.

As Catherine busies herself with arrangements, she begins to feel that things about William don't add up. And then there's her mother's reaction to William. She knew his family when he was a child. Even though she suffers from Alzheimer's and can't remember a lot, she has a strong aversion to him. Catherine has a hunch that there is more to the story than the one William gives her. She starts snooping around into her mother's past to learn the truth. Does she really want to know? Or does she want to keep pretending in order to maintain her beautiful life?

I know a lot of reviews are "Ugh, this woman!" and yes, Catherine is insufferable at first. She's created a life for herself where she never has to experience discomfort of any kind. Her money can buy her anything and she never has to worry. She spends the first few paragraphs trying to convince the reader that she is a good person. Some of the things she says and does, particularly in her interactions with her sister, tell us otherwise. But Catherine is not a monster. She is someone who tries and she has moments of clarity about herself that are refreshing. She's relatively harmless and she can't help being born who she is.

It's not like she's Mr Burns

Yes, I am a Catherine apologist. She's a flawed human being for sure. But she's good to the people who work for her and I think she'd be a loyal friend. That's why reading about her attempts to shape herself into the kind of person William wants her to be is so frustrating. She could do better.

We Could Be Beautiful was a bumpy start for me. There are chapters that follow the mundane schedule of this overprivileged New Yorker: her massage appointments, her gym appointments, her dinner and shopping dates. It's a little dull at first, but it's leading up to something. You just have to hang in there. The ending is bonkers.

The blurbs for the book make it sound like it's some crazy thriller, but it's not. It has a mystery, yes, but at times it's very funny. There's a lot of family drama as well. I really enjoyed seeing Catherine grow as a person. And, I have to admit, I felt some Schadenfreude as well.

If you don't take this book too seriously, you'll enjoy it. Be prepared to roll your eyes...a lot.

Don't hurt yourself
About the Audio:  Cassandra Clare does an awesome job, as usual. I think her William voice may have been too good. Did I instantly hate him because he sounds like a pretentious jerk or was he just a pretentious jerk anyway and any voice would have made him the same?

Thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for the review copy. All views are my own.

We Could Be Beautiful