The Gap of Time: re-imagining Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale
By: Liz Tousey, a librarian and Analyst on the OverDrive Collection Development Team.
The first novel in a new series featuring re-tellings of Shakespeare’s classic stories by modern authors, The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson is a beautiful new interpration of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale for modern readers. Recently published, it is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare initiative, which will be releasing several more retold stories in 2016 to coincide with the quadricentennial of Shakespeare’s death.
The tale begins with Shep and Clo (formerly Shepherd and Clown) in New Bohemia, a New-Orleans-type city in the US, coming across a baby and a suitcase full of money in a hospital’s safe haven hatch, and a man dead in a nearby smashed car. Worried about taking the blame for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Shep makes a snap decision to grab the baby and the suitcase, and raise her as his adopted daughter before the police arrive or the hospital discovers the contents of the hatch. Winterson then takes us back in time to London and the explosive marriage of Leo and Mimi (Leontes and Herimone) and how their child came to be in New Bohemia.
In The Gap of Time, Winterson takes what I’ve always considered one of Shakespeare’s more mediocre plays, with it’s inexplicable ending and famously bizarre “exit pursued by a bear” stage notation (Act III, Scene III), and shows us that, at it’s core, is a sweet story about loss, regret, and second chances. She reminds us how lucky these characters are, because unlike Romeo and Juliet or King Lear, most of them not only survive, but are able to find each other after “this wide gap of time” (Act V, Scene III). And though the audience doesn’t see it on stage, we are left with the impression that the characters will gather together and each will have an opportunity to tell his or her story about what happened during their sixteen-year separation- to ask for forgiveness, or perhaps grant it.
One does not have to be a fan of Shakespeare or have prior knowledge of the play to enjoy this book. Though the story has legs of it’s own, a synopsis and some interpretation and insight into the original text are also provided. If I had not already been familiar with the play, I definitely would be seeking it out after reading this book.The Gap of Time can be a terrific re-introduction to Shakespeare for those who don’t have much interest in the Early Modern English and iambic pentameter.
The only criticism I have of this novel is that I would not recommend it to our school partners, as the book contains some violence and sexual content that may not be appropriate in the classroom. And though I would change nothing about Winterson’s story, I hope that some of the coming novels will present us with the opportunity to share these new interpretations of The Bard with student readers. I am now eagerly awaiting the next books in the series: Shylock Is My Name (The Merchant of Venice) and Vinegar Girl (The Taming of the Shrew).