Reading is the only thing in the world I am good at. A lifetime of reading, fifteen years of working in bookstores, and libraries, and an obsession with the written word makes me qualified enough to talk someone's ear off about books. Now I am getting more ARCs than I have room for in the house. Let me get back to reading them!
I love a good Shakespeare performance. Some of my fondest memories are of going to see Shakespeare in the Park at St John's College in Santa Fe every summer. To this day, I will drop everything to see a local theater perform Shakespeare. However, I get tired of the constant, clever re-imaginings of Shakespeare. Sometimes I am in the mood for it, but usually I am not. When I saw that Vintage Books was putting out their Hogarth Shakespeare series that had authors rewriting Shakespeare plays as novels, I was skeptical of more clever retellings.
Luckily, the first book being published in this series is written by Jeanette Winterson, an author I am always intrigued by. Even more luckily, I received an ARC from the publisher through a giveaway listed on Shelf Awareness. When it came in I was thrilled, since the book is based on "The Winter's Tale", a play I saw performed in Santa Fe many years ago. It was always one of my favorites, since it wasn't a cut and clear tragedy where everyone ended up dead, and it wasn't a comedy, so you weren't guaranteed a happy ending.
Winterson has done an amazing job with the story. She has said in interviews that this play has been a "talisman" for her, and it shows by the thought she put into her cover version. Everything in story feels modern and fresh, not at all like a re-hashing of an old story. The characters are clearly defined, and you find yourself interested in them, even if you dislike them. In The Gap of Time, Shakespeare's Sicilia and Bohemia are reborn as a large corporation, Sicilia, and an American coast called New Bohemia that may be New Orleans. Leontes (called Leo in the book) is not a king, but the head of a huge, multi-million pound company. The Shepard is not a poor shepard, but a musician struggling with his unlucky life, named Shep. The story of the book follows the story of the play very accurately, but as I mentioned before, it doesn't feel like it's checking the boxes of every scene in the play. It feels new, and exciting to read. I am not always a fan of Jeanette Winterson's books, just because they are not always what I am in the mood for. The stream of consciousness narrative creeps into some of this book, which I did find a little annoying, but not to the point where I wanted to stop reading. I wanted to keep going, to see what she would do with the story, even though I knew how it would end.
As Winterson says in her own interpretation near the end of the book, this is an old story that even Shakespeare retold many times in different ways, yet she puts a face to it that made me want to read The Gap of Time over, and over. I would highly recommend this book to Shakespeare fans, Jeanette Winterson fans, and even people who are think Shakespeare is overrrated. I am also looking forward to reading the rest of this series. Gillian Flynn covering "Hamlet"? Margaret Atwood covering "Othello"? What literary fan could resist?