Margaret Atwood – Hag-Seed

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Margaret Atwood – Hag-Seed

After many years as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival, Felix is finally about to have one of Shakespeare’s most famous and magical plays performed: The Tempest. This will be a show like no other before – but fate has another plan for him; or rather Tony, his assistant, who has to deliver the information of Felix being fired by the board, a treachery well played by the second in row. Felix withdraws to some far away place where he not only mourns the loss of his job, but also the loss of his beloved daughter Miranda to whom he still talks as if she were alive. One day, the chance of getting back to work arises: The Fletcher Correctional Centre has set up some correction scheme involving theatre and Felix is to become the new teacher. He makes the prisoners experience Shakespeare in a completely new way and the outcome is stunning. In his fourth year, he selects The Tempest to see it finally on stage – and with the magical play comes his chance of revenge.

Hag-Seed is a novel of the Hogarth series in which authors re-write Shakespeare’s plays and transfer them to our days. Margaret Atwood has chosen quite a clever way of doing so, she integrates Shakespeare’s play into her novel, but that is – of course – not all this wonderful author manages to do: we have the play in the play, and we have characters who themselves incorporate the roles of the play in their fictional lives. Felix is undoubtedly Prospero using all his power to steer the people around him and to manipulate reality. His daughter Miranda, albeit dead, parallels Shakespeare’s Miranda in a very clever way. Sal and Tony, Felix’ enemies in the theatre world, can easily be identified as Antonio and Alonso. And the prisoners act as spirits and goddesses performing for Prospero-Felix. Apart from the characters, there are so many parallels between the drama and the novel, it would go far beyond the scope of this review to name them all.

Finding the parallels and detecting how Margaret Atwood transformed the drama into a modern novel, is great fun, but even more so is reading the dialogues. It is rare to have so much pleasure and entertainment when reading a rather serious plot; Felix’ interaction with the guards is hilarious, his work with the prisoner-students and their questions against the background of their criminal records and experiences in a world far away from elitist theatres, are fascinating. I wonder if the approach Felix’ chooses might not actually be the perfect way to bring Shakespeare’s ghost closer to today’s youth and thus become a model for teachers.

We know how much is hidden in Shakespeare’s plays and I have the impression that there is so much more in Atwood’s novel which I did not see at the first reading. This is definitely a novel worth giving a second read to dig deeper into what she has created. Coming back to the idea of the Hogarth series, I liked Anne Tyler’s version of The Taming of the Shrew a lot, but Hag-Seed is simply a masterpiece.

Camilla Grebe – The Ice Beneath Her

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Camilla Grebe – The Ice Beneath Her

A shocking crime scene: a woman has been found beheaded in the apartment of Jesper Orre, Sweden’s most popular and scandal-ridden CEO of a clothing company. The prime suspect has disappeared and what astonishes the police, too, is a weapon found on the site, a weapon which has been used before in a similar case. Four weeks before, Emma Bohman, a saleswoman of one of the clothing company’s shops, is in seventh heaven. Jesper has finally proposed to her. For months they have been dating, secretly since the journalists are always after Jesper, but now, her dream seems to come true. But one evening, Jesper does not show up for dinner, and he does not answer the phone, and strange things start to happen in her apartment. As Emma’s life slowly gets out of control, the police investigate the murder: has Emma become the victim of a serial killer? A man the whole country only knows too well?

Camilla Grebe’s latest thriller can grip the reader from the first page. The description of the crime scene is just horrible, it is obvious that the offender must have been full of hatred and rage, but also creative in a way since the arrangement of the corpse is quite remarkable. Most of the tension, however, arises from the structure of the novel. On the one hand, we follow the investigation in the present, on the other, we get Emma’s last weeks and her narration of how she met Jesper and how their relationship developed. It is obvious from the start that the famous businessman has something in mind and that there are aspects in his behaviour which make you shudder.

You quickly get an idea of what could have happened and who victim and suspect are – but then, Camilla Grebe walks in and has a completely different story to tell. When you reach this point of the novel, you sit there staring at the pages in disbelieve since all your ideas just vanish into thin air and most explanations you have made up before are simply wrong. I really enjoy novels which can surprise me, which play with me as a reader, put me on a completely wrong track and then offer another story which is absolute believable and in tune with the characters and their actions. Thus, “The Ice Beneath Her” a perfect read for fans of Scandinavian crime fiction who like strong characters and psychological thrillers.