Thursday, 28 June 2018

Reading Women #7 – A Retelling

The Gap of Time – Jeanette Winterson


The Hogarth Shakespeare is a selection of re-tellings of the Bard’s tales by acclaimed writers set in the 21st century. Launched in October 2015, this ‘cover story’ as Jeanette Winterson calls it, begins the series with a retelling of ‘The Winter’s Tale’.

Jeanette Winterson is a very gifted storyteller. She has a way of bending time and using non-linear narratives which simultaneously may upset our train of thought but yet gives us a greater sense of clarity by the end. The gaps she leaves in between the telling of stories (especially myths and reworking of tales) is fully intended. You will understand this as you start reading her any of her fiction (at least in the ones I have read so far). And in retelling The Winter’s Tale, she uses a ‘Three Act’ structure with two intervals woven in to fit the old story in a new avatar.

In case you haven’t read the bard’s version, don’t worry, she has included a brief overview of the original before the ‘cover version’ begins. The story revolves around King Leontes of Sicily who suspects his virtuous wife, Queen Hermione of having an affair with his best friend Polixenes , King of Bohemia. The jealousy results in him banishing his baby daughter, death of his bereaved young son and the reported death of his wife.  Of course he also tries to get his best friend killed as well. The repercussions of these acts take many years to heal. Even though his actions are deplorable, in this play, one of the last ones by Shakespeare, he seems to believe in second chances and forgiveness.

Jeannette Winterson transports this tale to modern day London and the players are Leo , a fund manager whose wife is Mimi ( a.k.a Hermione) , a popular French singer. His childhood friend Xeno, a video game designer is the one whom he suspects of having an affair with his heavily pregnant wife. The added complexity in this story comes in the background story of Leo and Xeno who while growing up together in a boarding school had been lovers and emotionally dependent on each other. The overpowering irrational jealousy results in Leo acting wildly violent towards his best friend and his wife. None of his actions are excusable, and borders on horrific.

He attempts to get rid of his newborn daughter Perdita, ‘the little lost one'. She ends up being rescued by Shep and his son Clo. They bring them up as her own and then time moves forward to bring us to the inevitable end – Perdita falls in love with Xeno’s son , Zel. They all meet and the truth of her birth mother , who had become a recluse in the meantime is revealed. She comes back to sing on stage. And there ends the tale with the curtain opening to reveal Mimi on stage after a long gap of time. Jeanette Winterson leaves the story there.

She claims a personal relationship to this story – the story of a foundling, a lost baby. Since she herself was adopted in real life, this had become a story she has worked on many times according to her. It becomes a tale of the possibility of the reversal of time, of the power of forgiveness and the possibilities of the future that we cannot foresee but can hope for.

Hogarth Shakespeare series
Obviously writing the first of the series must have been a daunting task, but she has executed it brilliantly. The characters and their inner motivations surprisingly keep us hooked. The danger we feel for their safety (definitely not Leo’s though ) is very real and palpable. This is a great challenge indeed, since the Bard’s tale is already known and  yet the suspense still remains.


Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins said...

These Hogarth adaptations sound fantastic, I'm particularly looking forward to reading Tracy Chevalier's and Anne Tyler's... and now this one!! I'm thinking I'm going to hold off until I've got the time and I've got copies of all of them, and do them back-to-back. :) Thanks for sharing this great review!!

Paula Vince said...

Hi Sne, it sounds as if Jeanette Winterspoon did a terrific job of this one. I might have to chase it up. I've read just one so far, which is Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl, which did have threads of The Taming of the Shrew. It's a very cool project.