In a previous season of our reading together, I have written about the work of Jeanette Winterson. I was attracted to this book not only because she wrote it, but also because it is Shakespeare’s play, “A Winter’s Tale,” re-imagined as a 267 page novel. I first saw the play sometime during the past decade during a summer Shakespeare festival. The production and the acting was excellent. The play has the strangest twist at the end, so surprising that the program gave a “spoiler” warning before the end of its synopsis. It has stayed with me, as Shakespeare’s plays will, but this one mystifies me. I was pleased that Winterson plunged into a explanation of her experience with “A Winter’s Tale” at the end of “The Gap of Time.” I say “plunged” because there is no separation from the tale and it takes a moment to figure out that this is suddenly the author speaking.
The structure of this book is, in fact, worth paying attention to. Winterson introduces the book with a synopsis of “A Winter’s Tale” which is most helpful to her reader. It’s easy to flip back to it when reading “The Gap of Time,” particularly when a new character is introduced. The reader can appreciate the names she gives each of them–how she has derived them from those of the original characters. King Leontes becomes Leo, a titan of business. His friend, Polixenes, becomes Xeno, a skilled developer of computer games. Only Perdita (the lost one) keeps the same name. We can understand why when Winterson tells us in her wrap-up that she herself was a foundling, as is Perdita. This is what Winterson says about what the play has been for her:
“I wrote this cover version because the play has been a private text for me for more than thirty years. By that I mean part of the written wor(l)d I can’t live without; without, not in the sense of lack, but in the old sense of living outside of something.
It’s a play about a foundling. And I am. It’s a play about forgiveness and a world of possible futures–and how forgiveness and the future are tied together in both directions. Time is reversible.”
This book was published in 2015 by Hogarth Shakespeare, a project of The Hogarth Press to see “Shakespeare’s works retold by acclaimed and bestselling novelists of today.”
Suffice it to say that “A Gap in Time” is a very different “A Winter’s Tale” examining the same themes and with more background information on the characters than is able to be accomplished in a play. I’m glad to have Winterson’s take on Shakespeare’s work.
Warning: The chapter, “Bawdy Planet,” only a few pages, is difficult to read and I would feel uncomfortable not saying something about it. Leo is completely taken over by utterly filthy thoughts (in my opinion) about the relationship he imagines between his best friend and his wife.