Wednesday 21 February 2018

Fiction: The Gap Of Time by Jeanette Winterson

Vintage, €13.15

The Gap Of Time by Jeanette Winterson.
The Gap Of Time by Jeanette Winterson.

Eilis O'Hanlon

Jeanette Winterson doesn't call her latest novel a retelling of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, or even an update or adaptation, though it's both, but a "cover version".

The musical analogy turns out to be apt, for MiMi - this novel's counterpart to Hermione, the pregnant wife of King Leontes in the original play - is a singer, whose husband (Leo Kaiser, the millionaire owner of a hedge fund) suspects her of infidelity with his best friend Xeno (aka Polixenes, here an actual bohemian rather than King of Bohemia).

If all this sounds confusing, fear not. No previous knowledge of 17th century drama is needed, and those wishing to trace the connections between the two versions of the story can bone up on the potted summary of the play provided by Winterson at the beginning.

The book is the first of a planned series of reworkings of Shakespearean classics commissioned by The Hogarth Press, Virginia Woolf's original publisher, to mark the 400th anniversary of the Elizabethan playwright's death.

Other authors to be signed up include Margaret Atwood, Edward St Aubyn, and even Swedish crime writer Jo Nesbo.

"All of us have talismanic texts that we have carried around and that carry us around," says the celebrated author of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, and The Winter's Tale is one of her personal literary templates. She's used its theme of disguises many times before, and here the provision of a ready -made plot and cast of characters allows her to concentrate on what she does best - spinning a web of dazzling prose that is appropriately Shakespearean in its wit, virtuosity and sense of fun.

Wordplay abounds. Winterson is incapable of being dull, and The Gap Of Time is a fitting addition to her uniquely inventive catalogue.

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