Hardcover, 288 pages
Published October 6th 2015 by Knopf Canada
It is not every author who is asked to do a rewrite of a Shakespeare play, ya know. That ought to give you an indication of Jeanette Winterson’s level of wordsmithery. I had heard of her writing and how wonderful her books are but had yet to try any of her books. I am actually really glad at The Gap of Time is my introduction to her writing.
The Winter’s Tale is a pretty famous tale so if you haven’t read it, I recommend that you do before you read this book though it isn’t quite necessary to do as Winterson provides a summary of the events of the play in the beginning. But I think a certain familiarity with the original material will enrich the reading of the retelling so you should do.
To be honest, The Winter’s Tale is not a favourite of mine because Leontes is an ass and I just wanted to see him pinioned–I felt that strongly about him. Winterson’s Leo is just as mad and infuriating but Winterson infuses him with a lot more humanity than Shakespeare did. As a modern reader, I actually liked Leo more, fallible as he is–not someone I would want to know or have a relationship with but as a fictional character, he is a lot of fun to read about. In fact, all the characters are very fun to read about. Polixenes and Leo’s relationship becomes complicated so you don’t know if he is jealous of Mimi (Hermione in the original) or Xeno (Polixenes). I most loved Pauline who is probably the only person who can put up with Leo. Winterson doesn’t diverge from the original much but her iteration of the tale has a lot more heart, a lot more warmth, and in general is the one that I prefer. The writing is out of this world too–as expected. Here are a few examples:
“What would we be like if we didn’t have a body? If we communicated as spirits do? Then I wouldn’t notice the smile of you, the curve of you, the hair that falls into your eyes, your arms on the table, brown with faint hairs, the way you hook your boots on the bar of the chair, that my eyes are grey and yours are green, that your eyes are grey and mine are green, that you have a crooked mouth, that you are petite but your legs are long like a sentence I can’t finish, that your hands are sensitive, and the way you sit close to me to read the menu so that I can explain what things are in French, and I love your accent, the way you speak English, and never has anyone said “‘addock” the way you say it, and it is no longer a smoke fish but a word that sounds like (the word that comes to mind and is dismissed is love.)”
The baby had lain like the visible corner of a folded map. Traced insider her, faded now, were parents she would never know and a life that had vanished. ALternative routes she wouldn’t take. People she would never meet. The would-be-that-wouldn’t-be.
Because her mother or her father, or both, had left the map of her folded on the table and left the room.
It was a map of discovery. There were no more North Poles or Atlantic Oceans or Americas. The moon had been visited. And the bottom of the sea.
But she was setting out with the blank sheet and compass of herself.
Unpathed waters. Undreamed shores.