THE THIRD WITCH

Rebecca Reisert, Author . Pocket/Washington Square $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7434-1771-6

For her first novel, high school teacher Reisert gives herself a tough assignment: rewriting Macbeth from the perspective of one of the three witches, here a feisty teenager named Gillyflower, or Gilly. It's an audacious approach that occasionally yields fresh insights, but more often strips bare the chilling allure of the play. The story is that Gilly, having served seven years in Birnam Wood with the witches Nettle and Mad Helga, is ready to seek revenge against Macbeth, who slaughtered her family. Disguised as a cheeky lad, she lands a job in Macbeth's kitchen and then cases the castle, once even climbing up Macbeth's private latrine shaft to eavesdrop on the conniving spouses. But there are distractions, such as her growing attachment to the orphan boy Pod, a young "moonling" she rescues in the woods. And various characters from the play keep implausibly demanding her friendship, including Banquo's son Fleance, and King Duncan's son Prince Malcolm ("Kitchen lad... Without your aid I fear I will perish in earnest"). Soon Gilly has more than Zelig-like ubiquity in the castle: she becomes the prime mover, implicated in everything from the Macduff family's slaughter to the appearance of Banquo's ghost. Reisert even uses Gilly to justify the Macbeths' marriage, as if their intimacy needed explanation. The supple language distantly evokes the poetry of the original ("I am a gapeseed, a strutting hobbledee horse, full of fury and threats but able to do nothing but playact"), yet what's best here is the fetid atmosphere, and the intriguing exploration of the place of women in macho Scotland. But Reisert overdoes the latter, concocting a cheery ending better suited to a politically correct fairy tale than to a female-centric Macbeth. 5-city author tour. (Oct.)

Forecast:Fans of Rosalind Miles's Guenevere trilogy will appreciate this title.

Reviewed on: 08/20/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-7434-1772-3
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-0-7434-2305-2
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