‘The Porpoise’ by Mark Haddon

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The Porpoiseby Mark Haddon is a masterfully rendered retelling of Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre.Haddon takes all of the elements of Shakespeare’s work, and layers on it a multitude of intricacies that elevate the story to an entirely different emotional plane.

Haddon sets his reader up in contemporary France where a plane has just crashed: a wife is dead, a daughter survives. Angelica, the daughter, is raised by her father Phillipe who develops a muddled and monstrous relationship with his daughter as she grows. Just as Shakespeare’s Pericles’ own adventure starts with the unveiling of a scandal between father and daughter, so does Haddon’s Pericles. This Pericles though is at first a con artist named Darius who comes to visit Phillipe and uncovers the untold lies surrounding Phillipe and Angelica. After being chased away by one of Phillipe’s henchmen, Darius, now Pericles, finds himself upon a ship, The Porpoise, with a new name, a new history, and a new destiny to fulfill.

Haddon follows not only Pericles, but also a host of other characters which have only minor or momentary parts in Shakespeare’s original. Haddon, instead of simply following Pericles’ narrative as it stands, weaves together characters and elements in unique and magical ways. In doing so, the reader is intimately tied to all of the characters whether she despises them or holds her breath for them. Through elements perhaps of magical realism, of mental instability, or musings on the veil between life and death, characters, times, and places start to blend together as themes and narrative threads are woven into a brilliant and moving tapestry that is Mark Haddon’s The Porpoise.

While there are points in the novel where Haddon’s musings seem to run away and leave the reader wondering at the thread of his thoughts, overall the piece is a beautifully set puzzle with some odd curves, but a marvelous finish.

A masterful and poetic work, The Porpoiseby Mark Haddon is slated for release by Doubleday on June 18, 2019. You can preorder a copy of the book at your local independent bookstore today.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Dunbar’ by Edward St. Aubyn

dunbar-edward-st-aubynDunbar by Edward St. Aubyn is the latest in Hogarth’s Shakespeare project. A modern retelling of one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, King Lear, Dunbar takes on the themes of greed, family, and madness with verve and anguish.

In St. Aubyn’s version of Lear, Dunbar is a media mogul who has recently decided that he needs an extended, if not permanent holiday from working, but with all the same perks of being the head of his corporation. He tries to convince his lawyer, Wilson, to put his two daughters in charge while still leaving him with all the proper bonuses. Wilson, in attempt to save Dunbar from what he sees to be a terrible mistake, tries to persuade Dunbar against making the decision he’s so set upon. Dunbar, in a fury fires Wilson, and after a chain of rather uncertain events in his memory, ends up in a mental institution in England.

We meet Dunbar in the institution where he has made friends with a famous alcoholic actor who promises to help him escape. Close on his heels though, are the two daughters he realizes have upended his plans in an attempt to take over the entire company and divest their father of all power. They aren’t the only one’s perusing Dunbar though. Dunbar has another daughter, Florence (Cordelia reincarnated) who had been stripped of her shares in the company after divulging her disinterest in ever being a part of management in the business. Dunbar, in his enlightened state, realizes the mistakes he’s made regarding his daughters, and makes every attempt to right his wrongs.

A thrilling and often terrifying account of one’s man’s effort to repair the mistakes he’s made in the name of greed, Dunbar is a beautiful parallel to Shakespeare’s King Lear. The hatred the readers build for nearly all of the characters is matched only by the overwhelming love we are made to feel for Florence. St. Aubyn’s best character by far though, is Peter, the alcoholic actor who, as nearly all other characters do, gives way to the greater temptations of greed.

St. Aubyn does a beautiful job of recreating one of Shakespeare’s arguably greatest works, and he does so by not simply retelling the story, but entirely reinventing it.

Released by Hogarth press in October of 2017, Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn is available for purchase at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Vinegar Girl’ by Anne Tyler

vinegar-girl-anne-tylerShakespeare never gets old, but when someone makes him new again (and in the most engaging, hilarious, and Shakespearean way), it is somehow exhilarating. That is exactly what Anne Tyler does with her latest novel Vinegar Girl. Rewriting The Taming of the Shrew in a contemporary context, Tyler takes what is one of Shakespeare’s most sexists plays and turns it into a dialogue about feminism and equality.

Kate Battista is a twenty-nine-year-old house-daughter who packs her scientist father’s lunch, makes dinner for the family, and keeps on eye on her younger sister Bunny. This very classical female role does not mean that Kate is an obedient or boring character; rather, she is an acerbic, assertive woman who speaks her mind no matter the occasion. She was even kicked out of college for pointing out an error in a science teacher’s lecture. Now she works at a preschool, not that she likes kids or anything.

Kate’s humdrum life is thrown off kilter when her father, Louis, suggests one day that she marry his lab assistant Pyotr. He doesn’t propose the idea because he thinks Kate and Pyotr will be great together, or because they are even dating, but because Pyotr’s Visa is about to expire. Pyotr has no other way to stay in the country and help Louis Battista with his twenty-year-long experiment. At first Kate is appalled by the idea of being married off to someone, especially someone that she finds as repulsive as Pyotr. But finally, Kate relents, and a courting game ensues with a level of caustic hilarity that mounts as the novel continues.

In the same vein of Shakespearean humor, language is a main means by which Tyler brings comedy into Vinegar Girl. Her characters use words with wit, stupidity, and ferocity. Tyler has a unique way of playing with language in the most simplistic of ways. Nothing is too fancy, and yet everything is calculated and perfectly arranged so that the text reads smoothly and the subtleties of the characters’ often nuanced words are not lost.

Vinegar Girl ends in a much more optimistic place than Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Instead of ending in submission and a hierarchical understanding of marriage, Vinegar Girl ends with a firm understanding of equality. Kate is not tamed; instead she comes to a place of understanding about her own position in her father’s household, as well as an understanding about what it means to be accepted and loved. Kate transforms into an empathetic character without losing any of her quirk or pizazz.

A fun, funny, and fast-paced love story, Vinegar Girl is a great read whether you are a Shakespeare fan or not. Released by Hogarth Publishing in June of 2016, you can find Vinegar Girl at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘The Gap of Time’ by Jeanette Winterson

the-gap-of-time-wintersonShakespeare is arguably one of the greatest literary figures of all time. In saying this, who could ever retell his stories with, at the very least, an equal caliber? Jeanette Winterson does just this in her latest novel The Gap of Time.

Based on William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, The Gap of Time picks up all of the characters in the play and sets them down in the modern day to explore both the themes presented in the original and more. Winterson takes the gap of time that occurs in the original play of some sixteen years, and extrapolates on the significance, terror, and beauty of time and its passage.

The story is one of an abandoned child lost and found. It is a story of a power-hungry and jealous father who must come to terms with the limits of his ego in order to find happiness. It is a story of two children grown to adolescence: young lovers connected in a way that they could never dream of. It is a story of old and new love, of the importance of understanding your own self-worth and fighting for the truth, even when it’s hard to hear. Most of all, it is a story of redemption, forgiveness, and renewal.

The poetical appeal of Shakespeare’s language is retained and modernized in The Gap of Time, and most especially through Winterson’s lush descriptions of time itself. Time is something that “holds the world still” that follows “you like a shadow,” and sometimes “[t]his is time. You are here. This caught moment opening into a lifetime.” What is perhaps the most magical and insightful aspect of The Gap of Time is Winterson’s treatment of time as a dynamic and fluid player in all our lives. Instead of viewing time from a single perspective, Winterson drives at it from all possible vantage points, and forces the reader to inquire into the many significances that time brings to life.

Though nearly all of the characters in The Gap of Time are much more accessible than Shakespeare’s in The Winter’s Tale, Winterson stays trues to the motivation behind most while also intermixing even more threads of love, lust, gender, sexuality, and humanity.

The Gap of Time is an absolute must read whether you are familiar with The Winter’s Tale or not. While coming to the novel with The Winter’s Tale as a background proves for a more thorough and insightful read, Winterson gives a full recap of the play in the book’s beginning, and the novel itself can stand alone just as strongly.

Published by Hogarth in June of 2016, The Gap of Time is available for purchase at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.