Categories - Books Shakespeare
Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time was commissioned by Hogarth Shakespeare as the first in a series of fictional reimaginings of the texts of Shakespeare, to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare in 2015, and takes on the task of responding to The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare’s penultimate play, moving the storyline from stage to page.
The kingdoms of Sicilia and Bohemia have been exchanged for the money markets of London and an American city that is unspecified, where the nights are ‘hot and heavy’ and the hospitals have baby hatches in which lost children can be found. King Leontes, whose poisonous accusations of adultery against his wife, Hermione, and his childhood friend, Polixenes, galvanise the action of The Winters Tale, has become Leo, a hedge fund manager who uses money and status to make his way through the world. His wife is now a French pop singer called MiMi, whom we first encounter “smiling, happy, heavily pregnant”. Polixenes is become Xeno, an idealistic video game designer whose ambiguous sexuality creates the tension on which the story turns. The names are given a contemporary lift, but the narrative follows the plotline of the original very closely. Xeno learns that Leo, enraged with false jealousy, plans to murder him and he flees. Leo accuses MiMi of infidelity, she gives birth to Perdita whom Leo cannot believe is his child, causing Leo to bribe his gardener (a modern day member of his retinue) to get rid of the baby.
It’s an interesting re-write that works well in its conception, I generally enjoy Winterson’s work, and yet, I’m very divided over The Gap In Time. It was faithful to the original, it was humorous in parts, I enjoyed the themes of music and ‘falling’ metaphors that drifted through the whole, but whilst I found some passages beautiful and thought provoking, others were so violent and crude that I actually put the book down for periods of time and wasn’t sure I would finish it. I am glad that I persevered; on its most basic level Winterson does what she was commissioned to do, and I know that many will love this work, but it just wasn’t something I resonated with.
It was an “It’s me…” thing. I wanted to like it, but didn't, and that's okay. If it gives a younger generation an interest in seeing Shakespeare’s original, then it has served its mission, and for that I'm pleased.
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