★★★/★★★★★: The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson.
“And the world goes on regardless of joy or despair or one woman’s fortune or one man’s loss. And we can’t know the lives of others. And we can’t know our own lives beyond the details we can manage. And the things that change us forever happen without us knowing they would happen. And the moment that looks like the rest is the one where hearts are broken or healed. And time that runs so steady and sure runs wild outside the clocks. It takes so little time to change a lifetime and it takes a lifetime to understand the change.“
This novel is the introduction to the Hogarth Shakespeare, a collection which will include eight novels by eight different writers, where the famous plays of Shakespeare will be retold in a modern setting. And we come to start with none other than Jeannette Winterson and The Winter’s Tale, one of the Bard’s most beloved plays as well as controversial for its traumatic beginning acts and happy ending. Most people know this play for the famous “Exit, pursued by a bear,” (perhaps the best death and exit I have ever witnessed and will ever witness in my entire life) but the story is so much more. It is the story of the oracle of Delphi, a queen named Hermione, a crazy jealous king, and royalty that does not know is royalty, in its retold way, a famous Paris singer/songwriter(MiMi), a hedge fund manager with a knack for paranoia(Leo), a video game designer with some love for both the singer and the manager(Xeno), as well as a girl who thinks the guy she cares for is her brother(Perdita and Zel). Yet, the best part, is the psychological trauma suffered by the characters, which I was glad this re-telling held, although, it is mostly a story about time, time is the main focus of the story, not the darkness of the original play. I do also have to add, that instead of a complete retelling, this is more of a revision or her own response to the play, so do not expect a scene per scene modern telling of the classic.
This is not my first Winterson novel, I’ve read some of her other novels, and one theme that floats along all of them, is the beautiful writing. Jeanette Winterson has a way with words, she threads very enchanting sentences, but in this novel, it made some characters seem too crude, with instances of their dialogue implying some rape (committing it) and violence(also committing it), which were not vindictive of the original work. Aside from that, I cannot complain over her use of words, metaphors, similes, allusions, denotations, euphemisms, and many more I most likely missed.
“He doesn’t take a photo or a video because he wants to remember — by which he means he wants to misremember because the moment is made up of what the camera can’t capture.”
My favourite part were the other literary references, from Oedipus to other Shakespearean works, to even Fox News:“Remember the story of Oedipus?”“Eddy who?”“Guy who murdered his father and married his mother.”“Was that on Fox News?” And other small glimpses of brilliance: “…. They had no idea about viruses in those days. Plagues were sent from the gods.”“They said that about AIDS. Even I knew it was a stupid thing to say and I’m no doctor.”“One thing you notice about progress, kid, is that it doesn’t happen to everyone.”She also wrote in queer characters, which although I did not see any of that in the original work, it was not a surprise, since it’s sort of a hallmark of her novels and poetry, and in turn, added a lot to Xeno and Leo’s relationship, but I do disagree with other characterizations. I was not pleased with MiMi’s (Hermione’s version) plot-line, such as who she was and did (and had done to her), because it seemed to deviate for what I have always envisioned, however, many of the reviews I’ve read like that about it, whether they have read the original work or not, therefore I seem to be an outlier. Because of this, I was more entranced by the love story and Perdita’s adoptive family, than with the main three characters disruptive lives.
Another theme that gets explored here is adopted children and whether or not they feel connected to their adoptive families, or if they are always in a state of hunger to know more about their birth family. We are never truly given a definite answer, or at least the truth perceived by the author, but this book is not meant to find an answer, it is about the daughter finding the answer herself. Perdita asks about her family before, but she is confronted with incomplete or false answers, because her father and bother don’t know about her family, so she stops asking. What she does know, is that she is loved and cared for, and that is enough for her.
This below, is my favourite quote in the work, because it indicates a way of thinking that is seeing the greatest shrinking of the American middle-class in history:
“…money and power being the most important things to you, you reckon they are the most important things to those that don’t have them. Maybe to some people they are — because the way guys like you have fixed the world, only a lottery ticket can change it for guys like me. Hard work and hope won’t do it anymore. The American Dream is done.“