Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Review: The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

Publication Date: October 6th 2015
Publisher: Hogarth Books
Length: 288 pages

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.

It’s rare these days that I get to go into a bookstore and pick up a random book that I know nothing about. With so many books on my to read pile, so many on my radar waiting for release dates, and so few English language books available for me to go and browse whilst I’m living in France, it understandably turns into a giddy and fun experience to wander through a UK bookshop and pick up books I know nothing about based on no more than an eye catching cover and an intriguing blurb.

“The Gap of Time” is one of those finds. A beautifully simplistic and engaging cover that caught my attention, and the possibility of a Shakespeare re-telling for a play that doesn’t get nearly as much coverage as some of his other works – colour me intrigued.

Luckily the insides more than lived up to the promises given, and I was enthralled from the opening line. ‘The Winter’s Tale’ is not a play that I’ve studied as extensively as some of Shakespeare’s other works, so it was nice that a brief summary of the play is included at the start to get you up to speed. It does take away a little of the mystery of what’s going to happen if you aren’t familiar with the play already, but it’s also a nice opening that allows you to sink into the story and appreciate it for what it is – a beautiful re-working.

It is stunningly written, filled with short sharp sentences, and passages and turns of phrase that took my breath away. It reminded me of ‘The Night Circus’ with some of the lyrically beautiful prose and I found myself quickly becoming lost in the story.

“In this night soaked bed with you, it is courage for the day I seek. That when the light comes I will turn towards it. Nothing could be simpler. Nothing could be harder. And in the morning we will get dressed together and go.”

My only issue came with Leo, who ends up coming across as a forced caricature, desperately shoe horned into a stereotype that works in the original play, but doesn’t in this. He’s flat, one dimensional and his ‘madness’ scenes were utterly bizarre. I couldn’t connect or understand, and that section was thoroughly jarring in relation to the rest of the novel. That was the only thing that stopped this breath taking book from being a full five star read for me.

Aside from that, I adored this book. It was a surprise find that enchanted me from the start. Full of beautiful passages and intriguing characters, this is a wonderful re-telling that brings Shakespeare’s tale to life in new and exciting ways. I cannot wait to see the rest of these re-tellings as they are released.

“That night, storm and rain and the moon like a mandala when the clouds parted, it was the moon that made him know. The baby had lain like the visible corner of a folded map. Traced inside her, faded now, were parents she would never know and a life that had vanished. Alternative routes she wouldn’t take. People she would never meet. The would-be-that-wouldn’t-be.
Because her mother or her father, or both, had left the map of her folded on the table and left the room.
It was a map of discovery. There were no more North Poles or Atlantic Oceans or Americas. The moon had been visited. And the bottom of the sea.
But she was setting out with the blank sheet and a compass of herself.
Unpathed waters. Undreamed shores.”

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