I think most people have some appreciation for Shakespeare, even if they don’t necessarily enjoy his plays or perhaps find them somewhat of a challenge. He is, after all, a genius playwright for good reason. Personally I love Shakespeare, especially his often playful use of language. Even when I was younger and couldn’t make sense of the plays as a whole I still loved saying the words aloud and hearing them trip or slip off the tongue. It’s therefore understandable that his works have influenced so many others, with hundreds of allusions scattered across different forms of literature and plenty of re-tellings. When I realised that Hogarth were doing an entire series where pretty prolific writers were writing their own versions of Shakespeare plays, I was immediately sold, even if it’s taken me this long to pick the first one up!
The Gap of Time is the first book in the Hogarth Shakespeare series and is written by the much loved Jeanette Winterson. It retells the story of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ bringing it into a much more modernised setting. For those of you who’ve read the play you’ll understand the bare bones of the plot, but for those who haven’t the plot is fairly simple. We have two kings, one of which believes the other is having an affair with his wife and has gotten her pregnant. Ruled by his jealousy the King sends the newly born baby off into the wilderness left to the hands of fate. Meanwhile, he does come to realise that his wife is indeed faithful, by which time both his son and his wife have died from the shock. What follows is the aftermath of these events and the filling in of the gap of time which passes.
One of the reasons I think Jeanette Winterson was so successful in making this play her own was the way in which she inverted the plays original structure. Although keeping to the main larger plot, she does not chain herself to the same order of scenes as Shakespeare originally intended. She lets the story start and then play out in the order she sees fit, allowing her own version to take the lead. Even so there are still clearly strong links to the play and clever uses of things such as language and even nouns which give a nod to the original play. The name, for example, of the Shepherd is changed to Shep, and that of Clown to Clo. With these small adaptations the author makes our characters clear to us in an obvious way, allowing for more subtle references and intertextual uses throughout the rest of the novel.
Speaking of characters, one of the things which I enjoyed in this version of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ was Winterson’s take on the characters and the ability to examine them in much closer detail. We don’t just follow the main plot points of the play here; we are also given plenty of subplots and added history with which to fill these characters out even more. Obviously this is only one authors interpretation of these characters, and it might not be the one we see ourselves in Shakespeare’s own play. Even if this is the case, it was still very compelling to explore these other possibilities and to wonder what these people represent and how they could ever have come to be in this position. The author very clearly has a specific vision in mind and as she brings this too us she sheds a whole lot of light onto these other characters.
What I will say is that this is not necessarily the kind of writing I would normally gravitate towards or prefer to pick up. Whilst it is completely readable and very cleverly written, there are some bits which are a tad more experimental or almost modernistic in style. These include bits which are written in something similar to stream of consciousness. I actually though these bits worked really well for the often frenzied internal thoughts of the characters, but I do personally prefer realism and guess I am more of a ‘traditional’ type of writing lover.
Throughout the novel we get quite an intense examination of different types of relationships and the complexities which could lie there. Winterson takes the more simple case of jealous and revenge and enlarges it for all to see, showing us in full colour the many human emotions and thoughts which could lead to this. We see various kinds of connections between characters, including familial, friendship, sexual and love, and witness how they can be built up but also down torn, each act of love and friendship turning to darker actions. Just as in Shakespeare’s plays, we see here how jealously can overcome someone, springing outwards from a dream and mutating into a hateful energy which destroys both those around you and yourself. I think because of the added backstory here it is actually easier to identify with the characters when compared to the actual play, even if we can still see their actions are equally as worrying and undeserving.
I enjoyed this book and I think that Jeanette Winterson is a fantastic writer, but I can’t really say that the characters grabbed me or that I really cared that much for them as people. In some ways I think the book was almost too short with too many different narratives, which made it harder for me to find the time to connect to each person. Even so, this is an excellent adaptation of The Winter’s Tale which has solidified the plot even more in my mind.
Short and snappy with a heap of imagination; this book drags the play into the modern world, reminding us just how little we have really changed since Shakespeare’s day.
Publisher: Hogarth Shakespeare