Monday, October 24, 2016


Margaret Atwood published Hag-Seed as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project along with some other writers like Jeannette Winterson who did an interpretation of The Winter's Tale and Gillian Flynn who is scheduled to do a Hamlet.  Atwood surely chose the most difficult play to reimagine - The Tempest, with it's sea disasters and magical island and all those mistaken identities.  I love a Shakespeare remix like nobody's business and, of course, Margaret Atwood is probably my favorite author, so I was pretty damn excited to see what she was going to do.

Felix is the artistic director for a Canadian theatre where he presents avant-garde productions of Shakespeare plays.  Right away he's ousted by his second in command, Tony.  Felix becomes something of a hermit and removes himself from society for a while, until he starts teaching Shakespeare to some prisoners at a local jail, under the name Mr Duke.  Sound familiar?  If it doesn't, you probably need to brush up on The Tempest.  I'm curious whether those who are not well-versed in the play would enjoy the book as much as one who isn't but my guess would be no.  Following the connections in part of the fun; wondering how she's possibly going to wrap it up, knowing the original ending, is like watching the master at work.  Anyway, it's a problem easily remedied, so, if you haven't read The Tempest before, give it a quick read before Hag-Seed and I think you'll find your experience improved.

Although Felix thinks things like "If anyone had told him then that he'd be doing Shakespeare with a pack of cons inside the slammer he'd have said they were hallucinating" he's actually a very good teacher with excellent critical thinking assignments for his players and a respectful attitude toward their strengths, with very little interest in their criminal backgrounds.

Shakespeare was famous for putting a "play within the play" and Atwood took that concept to the extreme.  At one point I think I counted five plays within the play but I did allow myself to get pretty meta - are we not all players upon the stage, etc.?  Hag-Seed is a joy to read and Atwood's joy in writing it is evident as well - she clearly knows the theatre very well.
Crises of confidence have been surmounted, grudges incurred, hurt feelings soothed. Felix has berated himself for his own lunacy in undertaking such a hopeless enterprise, then congratulated himself on his judgment. His spirits plunge, then soar, then plunge again.
  Normal life.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Trespasser, Tana French (no spoilers)

It was, of course, with unparallelled excitement that I started reading Tana French's latest mystery, The Trespasser.  I was so absorbed that, despite being on vacation in the very beautiful city of Lisbon, I was often thinking about getting back to my book.  Per French's conceit for the Dublin Murder Squad series, the main character is a secondary character from a previous book, although, in this case, someone we got to know pretty well in The Secret Place: Antoinette Conway.  She and her partner, Stephen Moran, are the newest detectives on the team and are working the worst shift, when a murder is thrown their way.  "...the real reason everyone hates night shift is that nothing good ever comes in. The high-profile murders with complex backstories and fascinating motives might happen at night, sometimes, but they don't get discovered til morning." It seems simple enough, even boring, but Conway and Moran keep pushing for answers, mostly because their colleague and their boss seem too interested in them closing the case quickly.

As the only woman and only person of color on the team, Conway is acutely aware of being treated differently by her squad.  Although they claim that they're treating her with the same teasing and pranking that any new member would receive, Conway feels attacked but doesn't directly confront the behavior. As a result, the reader is left wondering if she's merely paranoid (maybe that is how all new recruits are treated, for all I know) or if they really are ganging up on her.  She even doubts her extremely likeable partner, who is so eager to get along he mostly tells people just what they want to hear. Antoinette's voice is hard, and her attitude makes sense when explained: "I can't tell if this is batshit paranoia or the bleeding obvious slapping me in the face. Two years of watching my back, watching every step and every word, in fight mode all day every day: my instincts are fried to smoking wisps." She's desperate to avoid looking weak and letting anyone else have any power over her.  Asking for help is the hardest thing she ever does. French does an amazing job capturing the unique voices of her characters, but especially the complexity of the detectives - and they're all amazingly good at their jobs.  Despite Conway's intense distrust of nearly everyone, she puts that aside when interviewing witnesses or suspects. Like an actress, she and her colleagues use a library of well-rehearsed scripts to find the truth.

The murder victim in this case is a woman so bland and the case so seemingly-open-and-shut that Conway and Moran often wonder if they really should just close the case with the obvious perpetrator.  As a reader, you also get pulled into the idea that their theories are wildly off-target.

Without giving anything away, most of the characters of this book are trespassers in one way or another - Conway feels like an uninvited guest in her department, her estranged father has weaseled his way into her life and the suspects have inserted themselves into the life of the victim. As usual, French continues to be one of our best mystery writers and now I'll go back to watching the clock 'til her next book comes out.