Posts Tagged ‘Macbeth’

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Once again, a deliciously striking cover for Margaret Atwood’s most recent novel, and the most recent entry into the Hogarth Shakespeare Project… and the first in the project that I’ve read.

Now, I have a confession to make before going much further: I’ve never really got Margaret Atwood. I’ve wanted to; I’ve tried to. I really have. The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, The Blind Assassin, The Heart Goes Last… I’ve found them all daunting and I’m not usually daunted by books. Maybe daunting isn’t the right work. I’ve just never got into them however hard I’ve tried.

But this one, I actually really loved!

A re-invention of The Tempest, Hag-Seed is set in Makeshiweg, Canada where Prospero is re-imagined as Felix, the director of a local theatre festival, usurped by the Machiavellian machinations of a deliciously corporate Tony, an act which similarly de-rails his plans for a production of The Tempest. And within that circularity is encapsulated a taste of the delightful self-referentiality of the novel: theatres and productions and prisons and revisions and re-versions of the play multiply dizzyingly. Felix seemed perpetually with one-foot in the play: even before the villainous firing, he had lost his wife and named his daughter Miranda.

And Miranda is the heart of this novel: unlike Prospero’s daughter, Felix lost his own child and conjures her up as a memory which elides into an hallucination and slips into ghostliness through the novel. Simultaneously present and absent. Desperately clung to by Felix. Student and teacher.

Despite the ridiculous over-the-top caricature which Felix can become

His Ariel, he’d decided, would be played by a transvestite on stilts who’d transform into a giant firefly at significant moments. His Caliban would be a scabby street person – black or maybe Native – and a paraplegic as well, pushing himself around the stage on an oversized skateboard.

Atwood truly creates empathy and real pain in his oh-too-real experience of his grief as a father. At times, it feels touched by Hamlet rather than just The Tempest.

Felix slinks into a self-imposed exile following his firing and spends twelve years following the evil Tony’s rise to government and slowly plotting his revenge, a revenge which requires the Fletcher Correctional Facility to achieve via a Shakespeare Literacy Programme in which the inmates perform a Shakespeare play each year. As Tony and his cronies circulate and plan to visit Fletcher, Felix uses The Tempest as a tool with which to exact his revenge in a dark and drug-fuelled finale.

Personally, I preferred the build-up and rehearsal to the actual performance of the play and the enactment of the revenge. I loved the way that the inmates who were Felix’s cast toned down the self-indulgent theatricality of his original ideas and added rap, cynicism, kitsch and machismo to his re-invented re-invention. The actress Anne-Marie – a feisty and cool kick-ass dancer who can hold her own in the prison – becomes his Miranda; his Miranda becomes his Ariel.

At heart, the novel is an achingly painful and beautiful farewell from a father to his memories of his daughter and an ownership of grief. The final farewell genuinely brought tears to the eyes.

Other entries to the Hogarth Shakespeare Project include Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time (The Winter’s Tale), Howard Jacobson’s Shylock Is My Name (The Merchant of Venice) and Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl (The Taming of the Shrew). I look forward to picking these up and, when they’re released, Tracy Chevalier’s Othello, Gillian Flynn’s Hamlet, Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth and Edward St Aubyn’s King Lear to come.

 

 

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The last book I read, The Passage by Justin Cronin, took me a month to read.

This book, The Shakespeare Curse, took me 72 hours. That’s not a good sign. Not good at all. I like to lose myself in a book, to live, breathe, love and bleed with the characters I share my reading with. I like to immerse myself in the narrative, care for characters, feel their relationships grow and develop.

I could barely remember who was who in The Shakespeare Curse. Perhaps this was the effect of too many mince pies over Christmas or early onset senility. Perhaps it was the fact that Carrell’s characters were so wholly one dimensional that they were essentially interchangeable.

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I had some hopes for this book when I picked it up. I love Shakespeare as both an historical character and a writer; MacBeth is one of my favourite plays; a thriller in which modern murders are somehow based on MacBeth had promise.

Not a whole lot of promise! But some.

I was only really looking for a light post-Yuletide no-brainer thriller.

What I got was Kate Stanley, a heroine so monumentally stupid that I was rooting for the bad guys to finish her off! She is a Shakespeare scholar turned director who discovered a lost Shakespeare manuscript in the previous The Shakespeare Secret. Appearing not to want to waste a basic plot by only using it once, Carrell regurgitates it here: Kate was summoned to Scotland to locate a missing version of MacBeth on behalf of Lady Nairn a famous retired Shakespearean actress.

I can forgive Carrell the repeated plot. She’s in good company. Shakespeare recycled his own and other people’s plots.

The problem is that there is only plot here. There is no narrative, just plot.

The most absurd point occurred almost exactly half way through on page 178 out of 338 in my edition. Out of thin air and a propos of nothing, Lady Nairn mentions that she has an evil niece, Carrie Douglas.

Later she hands over an iPod containing a digital copy of a lost performance of MacBeth. There’s no explanation of how she got it. And it just happens to have a vital clue in it.

The best parts of this novel are perhaps the interludes around Dr John Dee, the Elizabethan polymath and occultist. The parallels between theatre and the occult were interesting: the performance as ritual; players summoning and conjuring the semblance of Kings and heroes from the past; the dangerous nature of the Renaissance stage. But it was nothing that hasn’t been played with before: the Theatre and Globe were alleged by Carrell to have been made to Dee’s occult design to conjure within. An episode of Doctor Who entitled The Shakespeare Code showed The Globe’s structure and Shakespeare’s words summoning ancient alien Carrionites.

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As a thriller, this book did not work: I cared so little for Kate or Lady Nairn that the plot held no thrill. There was no twist to surprise me.

As a lover of Shakespeare, I found the hints that he derived his power from a magical rite mildly offensive. His poetry and language has power from its muscular, human heart not derived from an occultist rite!

This was a novel driven solely by plot and bereft of all those things that make Shakespeare wonderful: character, narrative, growth or humanity.

I’m sorry, J. L. Carrell, I wanted to like this book but just couldn’t!