There are books or plays that you cannot imagine being retold and when they are, you cannot imagine anyone else retelling them but the author who gave it a new voice. I strongly go by this and more so after I finished reading “The Gap of Time” by Jeanette Winterson, a retelling of “The Winter’s Tale” by the Bard – the first in the project commissioned by Hogarth books under a new imprint “Hogarth Shakespeare” where all of Shakespeare’s plays will be retold by various authors.
“The Winter’s Tale” is one of Shakespeare’s last plays – exploring the theme of forgiveness more than jealousy over time. The plot is similar to “Othello”, but the story and the way it moves is very different and so is the conclusion. There is redemption. You actually need not read “The Winter’s Tale” to read “The Gap of Time” but do have some plot summary in your head before you embark on Winterson’s adaptation.
King Leontes of Sicily believes his wife Hermione is having an affair with his best friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia and that the child she is carrying is his. So he orders Polixenes to be murdered, the bastard girl child to be exposed to die and Hermione to be sent to prison, where it is believed that she also dies. The bastard girl child survives. Shakespeare has a change of heart so to say and must wait till the child Perdita – the lost one appears in Act II and everything then falls into place, including the broad themes of forgiveness, time and everything that is lost must be found.
Jeanette Winterson takes this plot and makes it her own. The setting is contemporary. The jealousies are the same. Polixenes is Xeno – a bisexual man who is in love with his best friend Leo and his wife MiMi. Leo suspects MiMi of having an affair with Xeno. Perdita is born. Leo orders his gardener to take her to Xeno. Things don’t go as planned. Perdita is adopted by a grieving man Shep and his son Clo. The plot unravels on Shep’s seventieth birthday and nothing is the same ever for the characters caught in the trap of time. They have to live and see what happens next and a lot does, which I will not give away in this review.
Winterson does a fantastic job of bringing “The Winter’s Tale” alive in 2008 – when the financial crisis was hitting the world and bringing it down. The theme of redemption is so strong running throughout that Winterson is the only one I know of who can breeze through it, without it becoming boring or monotonous at any point. There were lines I could not stop underlining or marking. The writing as usual leaves you speechless. It actually also surpasses time itself – just as her earlier works, where time is fluid, flexible and bends at will. “The Gap of Time” is such a worthy successor to “The Winter’s Tale”. You simply have to read it.