A pair of
THE Man Booker Prize shortlist was announced as this column was going to bed, as we say in the trade. Kiwi Eleanor Catton, who we mentioned here last week as being, at 27, the youngest writer ever in contention, is the hope of the Antipodes, with her 832-page novel The Luminaries making the cut. We will review the book next week. The shortest book yet considered, Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary, also made the final six. The other four are: NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being and Jim Crace’s Harvest, which remains the bookies’ favourite. The winner will be announced on October 15. WHO wrote Shakespeare? It’s a question that fascinates and infuriates in equal measure. For future generations, however, the answer will be simple: why, Margaret Atwood, of course. And Howard Jacobson. The Booker prizewinners are the latest writers to sign on for the Hogarth Shakespeare project, which aims to publish modern prose ‘‘retellings’’ of the Bard’s plays in time for the 400th anniversary of his death in 2016. Atwood, a great imaginer of other worlds, will rewrite that tale of storm and sorcery, The Tempest, while Jacobson, who is Jewish, will pad up for the sticky wicket of The Merchant of Venice. ‘‘For an English novelist Shakespeare is where it all begins. For an English novelist who also happens to be Jewish, The Merchant of Venice is where it all snarls up,’’ Jacobson told London’s The Daily Telegraph. ‘‘ ‘Who is the merchant and who is the Jew?’ Portia wanted to know. Four hundred years later, the question needs to be reframed: ‘Who is the hero of this play and who is the villain?’ And if Shylock is the villain, why did Shakespeare choose to make him so?’’ Adding that he ‘‘must be mad’’, Jacobson continued, ‘‘Only a fool would think he has anything to add to Shakespeare. But Shakespeare probably never met a Jew, the Holocaust had not yet happened, and antiSemitism didn’t have a name. Can one tell the same story today, when every reference carries a different charge? There’s the challenge. I quake before it.’’ The unflappable Atwood is not for quaking. The Tempest was one of her favourite works, she said, and ‘‘working on it will be an invigorating challenge’’. Jacobson and Atwood join Jeanette Winterson and Anne Tyler, who signed up recently for The Winter’s Tale and The Taming of the Shrew respectively. The novels will be published by Hogarth, an imprint of Penguin-Random House. More announcements are expected soon. Perhaps we can help them out with some suggestions. How about Bret Easton Ellis for Macbeth and EL James for Romeo and Juliet, for starters? SHAKESPEARE isn’t the only canonical writer undergoing renovation in the afterlife. In November, English novelist Sebastian Faulks will release Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, which will see top fop Bertie Wooster and his indefatigable gentleman’s gentleman Jeeves make their first appearance in print in 40 years. Faulks, who had some success channelling Ian Fleming in the 2008 James Bond novel Devil May Care, has said this is a far more daunting task because of PG Wodehouse’s large and devoted fan base, of which he claims lifelong membership. British critic Robert McCrum summed it up neatly: ‘‘For a PG Wodehouse fan to write a new Jeeves novel is a bit like asking a devout Christian to come up with a fifth gospel.’’ You can only imagine the pay cheque is a decent one, as impersonating Fleming and Wodehouse must keep Faulks away from his own work. For my money his Birdsong (1993) is one of the best war novels there is.