July 16, 2024

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Geek Lit Review: The Gap Of Time By Jeanette Winterson

Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, covered by a modern author.

I’m known as the Shakespeare guy in my department.  I don’t know that I deserve the title, but I have it anyway.  As it is, a co-worker showed up at my office with a copy of the New York Times Review of Books to show me an interview/review for a rewrite of Macbeth by Norwegian crime thriller author Jo Nesbo.  I realized I’d actually heard Nesbo discuss the book a few weeks earlier on NPR and remembered that he was one of multiple authors who rewrote Shakespeare’s plays as modern novels, and as such, I opted to get a couple and see what was what.

I started with The Gap of Time, a rewrite of The Winter’s Tale by author Jeanette Winterson.

Why this one?  Simple:  The Winter’s Tale is actually one of my favorites, generally only behind King Lear as far as I’m concerned.  It’s such an odd play.  It’s from Shakespeare’s late period, where his work is harder to classify by genre.  Most would call it a fairy tale, and that’s a good enough description.  I prefer to think of it as three acts of tragedy followed by two acts of comedy.  In the original, a king is convinced for no reason his pregnant wife is carrying the child of another man, namely his best friend from childhood, himself the king of another kingdom.  Though he tries and fails to assassinate his friend, his wife does stand trial, and even though everyone (and I do mean everyone) insists the queen is innocent, the king won’t hear of it and condemns her after the baby is born.  He sends the baby away, his young son dies mysteriously, and then the queen falls over dead.  Meanwhile, the baby is dropped off in the friend’s kingdom where the man delivering the baby is promptly eaten by a bear (Shakespeare’s most famous scene direction comes here:  “Exit pursued by a bear”).  The baby is then found and adopted by a shepherd and his family.

At this point, a figure representing Time steps forward to say 16 years have passed, the lost princess has grown up and the prince of the friend’s kingdom has fallen in love with her, and there’s some more misunderstandings before she finds her way back to her father’s kingdom and is accepted by her father.  Everyone is reconciled and it turns out the queen was maybe not dead after all.

So, how did Winterson adapt this work?  Well, she made the kingdoms corporate entities, the shepherd a man named Shep who adopted the baby from an infant drop-off, and most of the characters save the princess and a con man get modernized names.  She also digs deep into the psychology of “Leo” to suggest he may have had some weird jealousies going on over his friend Xeno and his wife MiMi such that even he wasn’t sure who he really was jealous over:  him or her.  She slipped some racial ideas in there by making Shep and his son black, suggesting that they couldn’t have gone to the police to report a lost baby if they wanted to.  But mostly, she tied everything to time as a concept.  Time here is the major theme of the work, one where it’s passage can heal wounds if the people in the river of time will let it.  Time was a character in the original.  Here, it’s something all the characters seem to feel as an actual presence.

She also makes a lot of references to Shakespeare himself, even quoting the original play, suggesting that the play exists within the world of the novel, but somehow no one stops to think the story sounds a lot like their lives.  Then again, Winterson actually namedrops herself at one point, and I have to wonder how much of this was meant to be amusing.

Winterson actually ends the last chapter by suddenly cutting in as herself.  She explains her affections for the original play and states that all stories end with one of three endings (and “happily ever after” is a coda, not an ending).  Basically, all stories end with either tragedy, revenge, or forgiveness, and what makes The Winter’s Tale so important is its about forgiveness, and maybe we need more of that in the world.

All I know is, it’s a weird book based off a weird play.  Actually, given the emphasis on music, it only makes sense that the book’s cover says this is a “cover” version of The Winter’s Tale.  Eight and a half out of ten attempts to use video games to find a path to the meaning of existence.

By the by, this may not be much of a Geek novel, but Ryan writes about Broadway shows here once in a while, so I figure I’m safe.