Monday 10th October; Margaret Atwood graced Edinburgh with a talk about her upcoming novel Hag-Seed which is a reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The novel is published as part of the Vintage Hogarth Shakespeare series with a mix of writers all rewriting Shakespeare’s plays as novels in the modern day. She chose The Tempest above all of the other plays as she believes it is the one with the most open ends – one of the most ambiguous; and claims if she couldn’t have chosen The Tempest she would not have wanted to do one at all.
Atwood’s novel centres on prisons – one of her famous reoccurring themes – and the characters put on their own production of The Tempest. Without giving away the plot of her new novel Atwood explored the many themes that surround some of Shakespeare’s revenge plays and her excitement over the abundance of Elizabethan swear words which make many an appearance within her own novel.
After discussing her new novel, Atwood talked about times when she had abandoned books; one of which she abandoned in lieu of writing one of her most famous novels: The Handmaid’s Tale. Those half novels completely abandoned had been done so because of structure faults which Atwood likened to the wings of birds: just because you have wings doesn’t mean that the bird can fly. Her influence for many of her novels was dystopia and the fears of a society edging towards a totalitarian dictatorship; she talked of her childhood and growing up with novels such as Brave New World, 1984 and Catch 22. Indeed, her novel The Handmaid’s Tale has become a ‘meme’, used a lot over the 2012 US elections with fears of what would happen if the US were to fall into a similar trajectory.