You think you’re living in the present but the past is right behind you like a shadow.
A new series from Vintage Books, Hogarth Shakespeare sees 8 bestselling contemporary authors adapt some of William Shakespeare’s best-known plays into “cover versions” for a new generation of fans. Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time – a retelling of The Winter’s Tale – is the first of these to reach bookshops, with the rest to follow in 2016.
On paper, “covering” Shakespeare’s plays sounds like a risky prospect. So when I first heard about the new Hogarth Shakespeare series from Vintage Books, it was with both intrigue and trepidation that I embarked on reading Jeanette Winterson’s retelling of William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale – The Gap of Time.
The past was always in front of him like a river he couldn’t cross.
In Winterson’s cover – which borrows its title from a line in the original – we are met with a modern day Bohemia (relocated to America) and Sicilia has downsized from a country to a hedge fund business. Shakespeare’s chronology is temporarily set to one side as we open upon the discovery of young baby Perdita by Shep and his son Clo before returning to the original timeline with CEO Leo, his wife MiMi, son Milo and best friend Xeno.
Playfully rearranging Shakespeare’s timeline means Winterson has the upper hand from the start, disorientating the reader and ensuring that this isn’t going to be The Winter’s Tale as we know it. The introduction of the eerie baby hatch (where new mothers can anonymously abandon unwanted children at the hospital) is particularly unsettling and informs us right from the start why Winterson – an adopted child herself – felt a special resonance with this play.
A man needs understanding because he is existentially alone. He stares into the darkness.
The Gap of Time successfully relocates Shakespeare’s cast to a modern day setting – Leontes becomes CEO Leo, Polixenes is games designer Xeno and Hermione is singer MiMi – yet the trio are still fated to the same complex, tragic relationship as their original counterparts. Winterson even addresses the more modern day methods at Leo’s disposal which *should* prevent the events of the original story playing out. Yet her fast-paced narrative and Leo’s own blind rage makes swift work of “evidence” from hidden web cameras and the mention of DNA tests to work them to his advantage. This, in addition to a more fleshed out back story between Leo and Xeno, makes Leo’s motives a *little* more valid.
The beauty of the Hogarth Shakespeare series is that there’s plenty to enjoy whether you have read the play or not. A short summary of The Winter’s Tale at the start quickly dispels any concerns of missing out…but there are also plenty of in-jokes for fans of the original and it’s fun to catch all the references to Shakespeare’s play. One of my favourites is the recasting of Autolycus as a dodgy car salesman who runs his own business – Autos Like Us.
But the diamond feathers weren’t flying-away feathers; they were solid as a promise that will be kept.
A particularly powerful motif inspired by a real dream from French poet Gerard de Nerval runs throughout. In it, he sees an angel fall into a Parisian courtyard and become ensnared – his wings hold up the surrounding hotel and if he tries to fly away the structure will collapse. When Xeno uses this powerful image as the basis for his video game it turns into a beautiful analogy for the relationship between Xeno, Leo and MiMi. One scene that will stay with me is when Perdita and Xeno’s gameplay is used to provide deeper insight into their thoughts and Xeno’s regret during an otherwise stunted conversation.
(I kind of hope someone makes this into a real game).
He doesn’t take a photo or a video because he wants to remember – by which he means he wants to misremember because the moment is made up of what the camera can’t capture.
The Gap of Time is book-ended by Perdita – another testament to Winterson’s own motives for choosing this particular play. In addition to taking centre stage in the opening scene, the reclaimed orphan closes the novel with an ambiguous monologue. But just before doing so Winterson spends a few pages offering up her own short analysis of Shakespeare’s play – primarily his move towards forgiveness and some of her own thoughts on time – a topic she expanded on during her talk at Cheltenham Literature Festival (more of which I’ll be posting here soon!).
Completely engrossing from start to finish, The Gap of Time will sweep you up with its masterful storytelling and complex characters – it easily serves as both a companion and stand alone text. Jeanette Winterson makes The Winter’s Tale her own with clever motifs and some witty plays on the original characters, bringing this beloved play into the modern age. A fitting testament to the bard and further proof that “He was not of an age, but for all time!”
I also saw Jeanette Winterson lecture on The Gap of Time at Cheltenham Literature Festival last weekend…highlights coming soon!
Disclaimer: This book was sent to me to review by Vintage Books. All opinions expressed here are my own.