The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson: A review
The Gap of Time was the first entry, published last year, in the Hogarth Shakespeare series. This is the project that has modern writers reimagining the Bard's plays in modern settings.
This book is a reimagining - or, in Winterson's own words, a cover - of Shakespeare's play, The Winter's Tale. It is one of his late plays, usually classified as a romance. It starts in tragedy and ends in comedy with everyone, but for two notable exceptions, living happily every after. The tragedy part of the play deals in some heavy psychological drama and the comedy part is replete with Shakespeare's famous misdirections and misunderstandings that are all cleared up in the end.
At least this is what I gather from the Wiki information about the play, for, in truth, I have not read it nor have I ever seen a production of it. Neither have I ever read any of Winterson's work, so I come to the book as a complete virgin.
The center of Shakespeare's tale is King Leontes of Sicilia. Winterson turns him into Leo, a fabulously wealthy, arrogant and utterly paranoid hedge fund manager in London in the era after the 2008 financial crash.
Sixteen years before, his best friend had been Xeno (Shakespeare's King Polixenes of Bohemia) who is now a gay, introverted video game designer. In Winterson's telling the two had had a sexual relationship as teenagers.
When we first meet him, Leo is married to MiMi, a popular singer-songwriter, who is mother of his son, Milo, and now heavily pregnant with another child. In his paranoia, Leo becomes convinced that the soon-to-be born child is not his, that his wife and Xeno have been having an affair and that he is the father.
He tries to kill Xeno by running him down in a parking garage and then goes home and rapes his wife. She goes into labor and gives birth to a daughter, whom Leo rejects and gives to one of his employees to deliver to Xeno.
Plans go awry, of course. The messenger with the baby is killed after he leaves the baby in a BabyHatch at a hospital because he senses he is about to be attacked. A man named Shep and his son Clo find the baby when they stop to change a tire next to the hatch. Shep, who has recently lost his wife, takes the baby and the bag left with her that contains money and jewels. As his son later said, "he fell in love with that baby and the baby healed him," and Shep raises the child as his own.
Through too many misdirections to recount here, sixteen years later, the foundling named Perdita meets Xeno and his son Zel - and, of course, falls in love with Zel - and eventually is reunited with her now penitent and lonely father. And, bottom line, all (or at least most) wounds are healed and everything is made right once again.
I really appreciated Winterson's writing. She made everything in this very convoluted tale zip along with her beautiful and seemingly effortless prose. She was able to capture the complex emotions of the characters and to build the story scene by scene so that those characters attained a certain heft and they all emerged intact from a complicated and satisfying contemporary tale that I think even Shakespeare might enjoy.
I don't mean to imply that the tale is perfect. There are a few clunky and awkward passages, but, on the whole, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read. It stands along all the other "covers" that I have read in this project, every one of which I have found to be entertaining. Now I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars