cover image The Gap of Time

The Gap of Time

Jeanette Winterson. Random/Hogarth, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8041-4135-2

Even the most devout Shakespeareans have trouble with his late plays—the ones where lost children reappear, the dead live again, and, with enough coincidences and unlikely events, King Lear–level tragedy ends happily. Winterson (The Daylight Gate), however, loves The Winter’s Tale so much that she’s written a “cover version” of it in this, the first in Hogarth’s Shakespeare series in which contemporary writers “retell” the Bard’s plays. She replaces King Leontes with Leo, an arrogant English money manager; old friend King Polixenes becomes Xeno, a video-game designer. As in the play, Leo’s conviction that the child his wife is carrying is not his but Xeno’s results in broken hearts and ruined friendships, exile, and a daughter turned foundling, raised by a bar owner and his son in a New Orleanslike city. But Winterson doesn’t just update the story: she fills in its psychological nuances. Why would Leo suddenly decide his wife is sleeping with Xeno? Winterson’s backstory can’t justify his actions, but it does add fascinating context. And in her version, the violence, by turns comic book and terrifying, happens onstage, not off. It’s fun to see Winterson solve the play’s problems, but the book’s real strength is the way her language shifts between earthy and poetic and her willingness to use whatever she needs to tell the story (angels, video games, carjackings). She makes us read on, our hearts in our mouths, to see how a twice-told story will turn out this time. (Oct.)