I was excited for this new book by Margaret Atwood, but I have to say I wasn’t all that impressed by it.
Her “Prospero” is a man named Felix Phillips, who worked as a prominent creative director for a theater for the Makeshiweg Theater Festival in Canada. His wife died giving birth to their daughter, Miranda, who lasted only three years before following her mom. Phillips has since buried himself in his work to the point where he failed to notice his own assistant, Anthony “Tony” Price, staging a coup against him. He’s in the middle of trying to put on a production of The Tempest when he gets fired and the production gets called off.
He recognizes his own blindness is to blame for the situation he’s gotten himself into and he just wants to disappear from the shame of it all. So he rents a tiny hut in the middle of nowhere under possibly less-than-legal circumstances. He had enough savings to last him for a few years, during which he plots his revenge against Tony.
He also talks to his daughter. He knows she’s dead, but he imagines her growing up and imagines conversations and chess games with her. He knows this is all in his head, but it’s definitely a fine line as far as how much is he really aware of that fact at any given moment? I thought that was an interesting way to keep Miranda isolated from the rest of society in a modern retelling of this story.
Although Phillips has money and his expenses are almost nil, he decides he needs to get out and do something, so he applies for a job as a drama teacher at his local correctional facility. He applies under the pseudonym “Mr. Duke,” gets the job, and his classes become wildly popular and always full with a wait list.
Finally one day, after internet stalking Tony (who is now quickly climbing up the political ladder), Phillips realizes Tony is going to be visiting the correctional facility where he works, along with some other political bigwigs, so Phillips seizes his chance to get revenge. He decides to put on a production of The Tempest, but with a twist.
After filming the play with his actors, as usual, he puts on a show for the politicians who have come to see the play, not realizing they’re about to become a part of the action. Phillips orchestrates everything so that the politicians unwittingly play out their own versions of scenes from the play. One of these scenes includes Tony plotting with one of the other politicians to kill a rival. Phillips gets it all on tape and uses it to blackmail Tony and get his old job back.
I kind of like the twist he put on it and Atwood did a good job of not letting us know what Phillips was planning until we “watched” it play out. Some of the discussions Phillips had with his students about the play were mildly interesting, but ultimately I just thought it was kind of lazy for Atwood to retell this story by having her main character play Prospero in a production of the play she’s retelling. I also found it cheap and unbelievable for the actress playing Miranda to start dating the politician’s son who was unwittingly cast as Ferdinand in Phillips’s twisted play. I expect better from Atwood.
What did you guys read this week? Anything else that let you down?