Reimag­in­ing the Bard: the power of sec­ond chances

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

Jeanette Win­ter­son’s new novel is the first in a se­ries from Hog­a­rth Press in which con­tem­po­rary au­thors reimag­ine plays by Shake­speare.

Win­ter­son de­scribes The Gap of Time as a “cover version” of The Win­ter’s Tale, trans­posed from the play’s fan­tasy world into con­tem­po­rary Lon­don and the fic­tional US city of New Bo­hemia — which looks a lot like New Or­leans.

Shake­speare’s King Leontes be­comes Leo Kaiser, an un­scrupu­lous hedge fund man­ager who con­vinces him­self his preg­nant wife, Mimi, is hav­ing an af­fair with his best friend, Xeno, and the child she car­ries is Xeno’s.

Win­ter­son con­vinc­ingly am­pli­fies the erotic el­e­ment of the friend­ship be­tween the two men. In her version, Leo and Xeno were lovers at board­ing school, and Leo still car­ries an un­ac­knowl­edged torch for his friend. Mimi and Xeno are a lit­tle in love with one an­other as well.

It is a tragic love tri­an­gle of sorts, al­though vastly more com­plex and sub­tle than Leo’s porno­graphic fan­tasies of adul­tery.

Tragedy en­sues as Leo gives him­self over to rage and re­venge, bru­tal­is­ing Mimi and com­ing close to killing Xeno, be­fore kid­nap­ping his baby daugh­ter, ar­rang­ing for her to be de­liv­ered to the man he be­lieves to be her fa­ther. But fate in­ter­venes, the baby is aban­doned, and 16 years pass be­fore she learns the se­cret of her ori­gins.

Read­ers who know Shake­speare’s play will see how closely the novel cleaves to the orig­i­nal plot, with all its out­ra­geous co­in­ci­dences, and its cast of char­ac­ters in­clud­ing the scoundrel Au­toly­cus, who be­comes (nat­u­rally) a used-car sales­man, try­ing to flog a clapped-out DeLorean. For those less fa­mil­iar, Win­ter­son pro­vides a brusque sum­mary at the start of the book. This all seemed at first to have an overly di­dac­tic as­pect, and to di­lute the ex­tent to which the novel might stand as an in­de­pen­dent work in its own right. But read­ing on, the book con­vinced me not all adap­ta­tions have this goal. Win­ter­son’s novel seems to want to ex­ist in in­ti­mate, self-con­scious con­ver­sa­tion with the orig­i­nal.

The Win­ter’s Tale is one of Shake­speare’s late ro­mances and reprises themes and mo­tifs from ear­lier plays, most no­tably Othello, in its study of the mur­der­ous po­ten­tial of mas­cu­line jeal­ousy. But there are no­tice­able dif­fer­ences, too.

The Win­ter’s Tale cel­e­brates the power of sec­ond chances: the chance for a do-over, an op­por­tu­nity to make com­edy out of tragedy, re­vi­sion as re­demp­tion. Time is mo­bile, flex­i­ble,

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