Hogarth, October 2015.
This is the first book in Hogarth’s Shakespeare series – the series allows popular authors to reimagine one of the bard’s plays in their own style. As Jeanette Winterson is one of my all-time favourites, I couldn’t resist trying out her interpretation of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” and I’m so glad I did. The Gap of Time is original and exciting, while still expressing the timelessness of Shakespeare’s themes.
The Gap of Time can be read with our without a background knowledge of “The Winter’s Tale,” but I would suggest at least looking over a synopsis of the play before reading the novel, just so you don’t miss any of the fun parallels between the two. The play is essentially about a king who mistakenly believes that his queen is having an affair with his best friend – this causes political conflict as well as familial tragedy, and results in the queen’s baby being taken from their kingdom and raised elsewhere. In classic Shakespearean fashion, the family is reunited years later with plenty of drama.
Winterson holds on to the universal themes of the play, such as jealousy, revenge, and redemption. However, she puts her own spin on things by adding explorations of class, race, gender and sexuality. The title takes its name from one character’s video game design, which features an angel at risk of destroying the world around him. He designed the game with women in mind – one woman in specific, as we later learn – in an attempt to counteract the gendering of such activities.
Our first narrator, Shep, lives in a poor neighbourhood when he discovers baby Perdita. I immediately enjoyed his voice, it felt like listening to an old friend tell a story, which is the kind of guy that Shep embodies. Later, narration switches to Leo (the jealous king character), who is unlikable yet still draws you in to the madness of his mind. As Leo’s mistrust and jealousy escalate, he targets his wife Mimi and her friendship with his own childhood best friend, Xeno. However, the two men have a complicated past, leading us to wonder which of the two Leo is really jealous about. Leo’s scheming comes to a head when he sends Mimi’s baby away to be discovered by Shep. Through a convoluted series of events – Shakespeare again – the characters are eventually reunited and the truth comes out.
Meanwhile, we have classic Winterson forays into the poetics of the universe – she speaks of the earth and the moon as twins that were once separated, and have inspired humans ever since as “the grand motif of our imagination.” (Loc. 1388) There was also plenty of rumination on religion, philosophy and the nature of time. The best part for me was about half way through as Autolycus and Clo discuss the Oedipus Complex and how it came to be. The description was so original and humorous (Autolycus claims it was all due to the lack of roundabouts – if Oedipus hadn’t met his father at a crossroads, Freud would have had nothing to talk about). It touches upon other Freudian elements in the plot, such as Leo’s lust for Perdita before he realizes she is his long-lost daughter.
I also really enjoyed the meditation on time at Loc. 1629: the point of time is that it ends, and thus we should be using it wisely – unlike Xeno who is lost in his video game, or Leo, who pushes everyone away because he cannot trust them. In her author’s note, Winterson writes that “time is reversible” – forgiveness and the future work in both directions and we can’t have one without the other.
I look forward to more novels from Hogarth’s Shakespeare series, as well as more from Winterson, as always.
I received this book for free from Hogarth and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.