Hogarth Books has embarked on a project to commission acclaimed modern writers to re-tell the stories of Shakespeare. ‘The Gap of Time’ by Jeanette Winterson is the first of the books to be published.
This volume retells ‘The Winter’s Tale.’
Would I have noticed that it was a retelling of Shakespeare if it hadn’t been stated right up front? Not at first, no. (There’s an introductory re-cap – kind of ‘The Winters Tale For Dummies’ – to get the events and characters fresh in our minds.)
The first part of the novel introduces a contemporary drama. Stumbling into the aftermath of a violent crime scene, an African-American father and son discover a dead body on the ground, next to a ‘safe-haven’ baby drop. Although unwilling to call the cops and get involved, the two men ‘rescue’ the baby, assuming she was abandoned and unwanted, and adopt her, calling her ‘Perdita.’
Little did any of them know the complicated and ugly truth behind why baby Perdita ended up where she was. But as readers, we gradually learn, as we meet Leo, an arrogant, obnoxious and obsessive “1%-er,” his closest friend from childhood, the free-spirited slacker Xeno, and the woman who (inexplicably) cares for both of them – the French chanteuse MiMi. Leo insists on using the strands of the tangled web woven between them to strangle them all, in a shocking tragedy.
I really liked this first part of the book, and thought it worked quite well on its own merits. However, the second and third parts of the novel start getting more concerned with the Shakespeare/Winterson parallels, which I thought began to feel forced. The plot events also begin to cross the line from family melodrama into straight-up absurd comedy. And around there, it lost me a little.
Overall, it’s good, but not one of my favorites of all time. Definitely recommended if you’re a particular Shakespeare fan though.
Many thanks to Hogarth and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.