I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
The Winter's Tale is one of Shakespeare's “late plays”. It tells the story of Leontes, King of Sicily, whose insane jealousy results in the banishment of his baby daughter, Perdita, from the kingdom and then the death of his beautiful wife, Hermione. Perdita is brought up by a shepherd on the Bohemian coast, but through a series of miraculous events, father and daughter, and eventually mother too, are reunited.
In Jeanette Winterson's retelling we move from London, a city reeling after the 2008 financial crash, to a storm-ravaged city in the US called New Bohemia. Her story is one of childhood friendship, money, status, video games and the elliptical nature of time. It tells in a hyper-modern way, full of energy and beauty, of the consuming power of jealousy on the one hand, and love, redemption and a lost child on the other.
***This review is based on an uncorrected proof that I won in a GoodReads give away.***
4.5 stars. I loved it. But this contains things that are catnip to me: a Shakespearean story retold by a talented writer. I saw The Winter’s Tale performed last year, so it was reasonably fresh in my mind as I read The Gap of Time. Winterson, Winter’s Tale, how perfect.
Winterson has the writing chops to pull this off. I love the playfulness of her writing in this novel—totally appropriate, as Shakespeare wrote plenty of humour into the original. And I think the bawdy Bard would approve of some of her cheeky observations about human sexuality.
A couple of the things that made me smile:
Xeno, describing computer games: “Have you ever noticed how ninety per cent of games feature tattooed white men with buzzcuts beating the shit out of the world in stolen cars? It’s like living in a hardcore gay nightclub on a military base.”
“There was a knock at the door. It was Clo and Lorraine LaTrobe. ‘We’ve come to wish you luck, little sister,’ said Clo. Lorraine LaTrobe was dressed in a skintight one-piece Lycra suit and spike heels. Her hair was piled on her head and dyed red like a stop light…’Hello, Mrs. Levy,’ said Lorraine. ‘We’ll be in the front row.’ She took Clo’s hand and led him off. ‘She’s quite a woman,’ said Shep. ‘She’s trans,’ said Pauline [Mrs. Levy]."
And of course, I love tons of literary references. Oedipus, Hemingway, several other Shakespearean works, plus a little reference to the author herself!
So why did I knock off half a star? The reason may not even be in the final version of the book. It’s the last 5ish pages, the explaining and philosophizing. Put it in an afterword. Put it in a post-script. Just don’t attach it to the actual tale as if it’s part of that story.