“A sad tale’s best for winter; I have one…of sprites and goblins” – Mamillius
Leo, a rich and powerful man, mistakenly accuses his wife Mimi of having an affair (and fathering a child) with his best friend, Xeno. As a result he disowns his newborn daughter, Perdita, sends her overseas and divorces his wife, who withdraws from society, becoming very stone-like in nature. Years later, in a stunning twist of fate, the banished daughter (raised by a man named Shep and his fool-like son, Clo) falls in love with the son of Xeno. Perdita’s path to discovering her true parentage brings everyone together to confront their troubled pasts.
Sound vaguely familiar? It should. It’s William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, but in this “cover version” King Leontes is a hedge fund tycoon and his best friend, King Polixenes, is a video game designer; the setting is London and Bohemia (someplace in the United States). The Gap of Time, written by the appropriately named Jeanette Winterson, is the first installment of the new Hogarth Shakespeare Series of contemporary novels retelling the Bard’s plays.
Readers unfamiliar with the original are given a brief synopsis before the story begins. Fan’s of Shakespeare will need no such introduction as Winterson is faithful to the the spirit of the tale and the narrative. She delves deeper into the complicated personalities of the characters than Shakespeare ever did. Her prose is light and quick, almost whimsical and magical at times, yet can turn hauntingly tragic when need be – much like the original play. She, like Shakespeare, seems to have fun playing with the themes of reversed gender, disguises and coincidences. Scattered throughout the novel are inventive “easter eggs” linking this modern telling to the original play. Winterson seems to step away from the story and float above it, writing not simply for the reader, but for an obvious audience that is peering in on this self contained world.
But while true to the general themes of The Winter’s Tale, The Gap of Time is not a substitute for the original. This is not your high school English Lit teacher’s Shakespeare. There are more adult themes addressed here, and none of the implied violence of the play is set “offstage”. It can be, at times, very brutal. Leontes remains a wholly unsympathetic character, even in his supposed redemption.
Notably absent is the wonderful language of the period; that is half the enjoyment of Shakespeare. Winterson does an admirable job of trying to craft the same feel. I felt at times, however, that many of the connections to the original were a bit heavy handed, preferring a more subtle approach. Be that as it may, fans will enjoy these little inside jokes and it doesn’t distract from the overall story.
My advice? Shakespeare fans simply need to sit back and enjoy the translation. Much how directors update Shakespeare by changing settings and costumes to reflect different periods of time, Winterson expertly fashions her own interpretation on the classic, connecting the Elizabethan Age to the MMORPG & Internet Age. The result is a work that is instantly accessible to an audience that is conditioned by their personal cultures.
More contempory versions of Shakespeare’s plays are planned for the Hogarth series, including novels from Anne Tyler (her version of The Taming of the Shrew) and Margaret Atwood (The Tempest). The Gap of Time, being the first in the series, (and incidentally the last of Shakespeare’s plays) is a good start to what promises to be a very interesting and enjoyable series.
3 stars out of 5. An enjoyable novel that will leave you wanting to recommend it to other fans of Shakespeare. Click Here to purchase your copy.
I received a free copy of The Gap of Time from Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and honest review under penalty of being chased off the Internet by a bear.