This Winter(son)’s Tale Revisits a Timeless Classic

imageThe Gap of Time

Author: Jeanette Winterson
Publisher: Hogarth
Pages: 288
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Twitter: @wintersonworld
Website: jeanettewinterson.com

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.

 

 

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A Short Review for The Grownup

The Grownup

imageAuthor: Gillian Flynn
Publisher: Crown (November 2015)
Pages 64
Website: Gillian-flynn.com
Twitter: gillianflynn

This will not be a very long review. The Grownup is actually not a very long novel.

64 Pages. Give or take. I think the actual story started on page 6, (9% through the novel) so…that happened.

I could attempt to give you a rundown on this mini-thriller’s plot, setting, themes and characters. However, if I did, it would spoil about 1/3 of the length of the actual novel. A common rule I have: reviews should not be longer than the actual novel. To avoid actually giving away too much of this very short story that you’ll probably pay anywhere between $12 for the hard cover and $2.99 for the Kindle version for, I will just say the following:

Do you like ghost stories?

Did you like reading any of the other novels Gillian Flynn wrote, including the hugely famous, suspenseful and successful Gone Girl?

Do you like Flynn’s first person writing style, her fast paced storytelling and how she keeps readers guessing and second-guessing with twists and red herrings?

Do you like George R. R. Martin…you know, the guy who’s famous for the extremely long winded, 1,000 page tomes that make up the Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones) series? (He asked Flynn to write him a story. This is that story.)

Do you like reading a full novel (or more appropriately a Novella) in about an hour and a half (leaving time to stop, grab a pop, go let the dog out and check Facebook for any messages)?

Are you trying to finish up a Goodreads Reading Challenge and need just one more book?

If you answered yes to any of these questions then read The Grownup by Gillian Flynn. It’s a fun, thrilling tale. My only complaint is that it could have been longer. There was enough good material here for a full length novel. The ending felt rushed and vague. Ok, that’s actually a couple of complaints.

Addendum #1: If you are planning to read this novel on a three or four hour flight across the country, you’d better bring another book.

Addendum #2: I received a free copy of this book from BloggingForBooks.com in exchange for a fair and honest review. That said, I’m glad I didn’t pay $12 for the mini-book format of this novella.

As short stories or novellas go, The Grownup is a good 4 out of 5 stars.

To purchase a copy of The Grownup by Gillian Flynn, CLICK HERE.

I’ve Never Read The Call Of The Wild…Or Have I?

imageThe Call of the Wild

Jack London
120 Pages
Published: 1903

I read this book before. I must have, right?

Jack London’s The Call of the Wild is the almost timeless story of Buck, a St. Bernard/Scotch collie mix breed that is dognapped from his domestic life in California and sold as a sled dog in the rough, brutal emptiness of the Yukon wilderness during the gold Rush. I mean, who hasn’t read this? We all know the story.

Right?

For the life of me I can’t ever remember reading this. I’m 46 years old now and it baffles me that I never read this. When a free e-book of The Call of the Wild popped up in an email from Early Bird Books, I quickly download it to read later. (Don’t know about Early Bird Books??! Click here. Get great deals and free classic e-books. Every day.)

Why now?

I’ve been heavily into books that take place on Mars this year; no less than seven novels dealt in some way with the Red Planet. I needed to cleanse my reading palate and getting back down to old terra firma was just the fix. The Call of the Wild seemed like the obvious choice and the time was right to revisit an old classic.

As I dove into the pages, I realized that I didn’t have any recollection of reading this before. But I knew the story: Domesticated dog gets thrown into the wilderness, overcomes hazardous obstacles to finally embrace the “wildness” in itself and learns how to be free. So it was either amnesia or the simple truth that I never read it. In either case, how great it was to be surprised by the timeless writing of Jack London! Sure, the novel is set in the Yukon during the 1890’s Gold Rush, yet the simplicity of the story lets it age well. So many novels nowadays talk about heading into the wild, renouncing our wi-fi, smart phones and electronic gadgets. I will wager that many of the “wild” areas of the Yukon still lack these everyday amenities we take for granted.

Clocking in at about 120 pages or so it won’t take long to read, but you will find yourself savoring every sentence. London’s imagery of  the Northwest Territories is so breathtaking that you can feel the cold of the snow , smell the pines of the forest, and hear the howls of the wolves. While London’s magnificent writing ability transports you to the harsh wilderness of the Yukon, he masterfully does so without wasting many words.

The novel is a classic example of the pastoralism of the day (or even today it seems) and the desire to get back to nature and our ancient roots. As Buck endures his tribulations- learning the Law of Club and Fang, battling for the Alpha dog position- he slowly reverts back to his primordial instincts. In the end, Man, his former master and the secondary character of the novel, is unable to adequately tame the wilderness. In fact, the only man Buck feels any kinship with is James Thorton, who lives “close to the earth”. Only by shedding his civilized nature does Buck adapt and survive.

What I did not like about the novel: Very little actually. Some of the descriptions and actions of characters fell into common literary tropes of the day. The only female in the novel is a hapless, nagging fool that relies on men to rescue or take care of her. I’ll give London a pass here though, because the men she relies on are no better than her. Many of the humans are simple caricatures. They serve the purpose of moving the story along.

If you are like me and you “Think” you’ve read the Call of the Wild, but you aren’t really sure, do yourself a favor and (re)read this classic. And if you have read it, pick it up again. Head the Call.
Five Stars Out of Five.  Classic.