Maximum Shelf: The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

Maximum Shelf is the weekly Shelf Awareness feature focusing on an upcoming title we love and believe will be a great handselling opportunity for booksellers everywhere. The features are written by our editors and reviewers and the publisher has helped support the issue.

This review was published by Shelf Awareness on July 22, 2015.


gap of timeThe Hogarth Shakespeare project undertakes to reinvent the Bard’s classic works in novel form; the first installment is The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson (Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit; Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?), a “cover version” of The Winter’s Tale. In Shakespeare’s original, the kings of Sicilia and Bohemia are great friends until one accuses the other of sleeping with his wife. The jealous Leontes plots to murder his friend Polixenes, but misses his chance and instead takes out his rage on his pregnant wife, the queen Hermione. By the time his suspicions are proved false, he has lost both his son and his wife, and the baby girl Hermione gives birth to has disappeared. Leontes ordered the baby taken into the wilderness and abandoned, but the man he assigned this task died in the process, so the baby’s fate is unknown. Sixteen years later, a romance between Polixenes’s son and a beautiful, mysterious shepherd’s daughter may offer redemption and even a second chance.

The Gap of Time is set dually in modern London, just following the 2008 economic crisis, and the fictional American city of New Bohemia. Londoners Leo and Xeno were childhood friends and, for a time, lovers; as adults, despite very different values, the bohemian Xeno and the materialistic Leo have become business partners in Sicilia, a high-tech gaming company. Leo’s wife, MiMi, son, Milo, and his uber-capable assistant, Pauline, round out a highly functional, loving family of sorts, until Leo becomes obsessed with the idea that MiMi and Xeno are sleeping together. Leo reacts violently, and loses his son and wife. When he tries to ship MiMi’s baby daughter overseas to Xeno, whom he wrongly believes to be her father, the little girl goes missing.

In New Bohemia, Shep and his son, Clo, who run a piano bar, come across a carjacking too late to save its victim, after which Shep is able to pull a baby out of the nearby hospital’s BabyHatch, a high-tech receptacle for abandoned infants. He is convinced this child is a gift meant for him, to help him heal after his wife’s death, and raises the girl as his own. Her name, according to papers found with her, is Perdita. He could never conceal from her that she is adopted: Perdita is white, while Shep and Clo are black; but she grows up in a home filled with love and music, never doubting that she is wanted. As in the original, 16 years will pass before Perdita encounters a romantic interest who, though equally ignorant of their connected past, will lead to her learning about her origins.

A very brief recap of The Winter’s Tale at the beginning of the book informs the reader, so that no knowledge of the original is necessary to follow or enjoy this retelling. Indeed, The Gap of Time will please readers who have never given Shakespeare a second glance, as well as his committed fans. Winterson has fashioned the ideal remake: paying respect to the original and faithfully following many plot points, as well as the general spirit, she simultaneously builds upon it, not only making Shakespeare’s work accessible to modern minds but providing a freshly felt and relevant emotional experience.

Shakespeare’s sympathetic and intriguing plot involving several twists and changes of heart plays well with Winterson’s nuanced tone, while her characters are more multi-faceted than the originals. Leo is a deeply flawed man who nonetheless attracts the reader; Xeno is magnetic, beautiful and sensual; and MiMi is a woman of more complex feelings than the dignity Shakespeare gives Hermione. The next generation, Perdita and Zel, Xeno’s son, are appealing, with passions and interests of their own. It is Shep and Clo, though, Shakespeare’s nameless Shepherd and Clown, who get the most reworking, and to great advantage.

Most of The Gap of Time takes place in London and New Bohemia, but also visits Paris, the Seine and, of course, the bookshop Shakespeare and Company. As realistic as these settings are, it is the gaming world invented by Leo and Xeno that is most imaginative and vibrant. Leo is obsessed with the scene in Superman: The Movie where Superman zips round the world and turns back time to save Lois Lane. Their game is creative, vividly rendered and evocative of Xeno’s disappointment in what his life has become, as well as Leo’s preoccupation with the idea of time’s malleability. It is a game filled with angels of death, and it is called The Gap of Time.

As the title indicates, Winterson’s version of The Winter’s Tale plays with the concept of time even more than the original did, asking questions about what is changeable about our pasts and our futures. Leo wishes he could take back his madness and its consequences; Xeno wishes he’d handled it differently. This is a stirring tale filled with waste, simple mistakes and regrets. But as in the original, it also offers hope, young love and the possibility of new beginnings. In an unusual twist, Winterson herself steps forward in the final pages to speak in the first person about what she hopes for from this story–and then she steps back to allow her characters to finish it.


Rating: 7 feathers.

The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare

I am working on a Maximum Shelf for the first book of Hogarth Shakespeare: The Gap of Time, by Jeanette Winterson. In preparation, naturally, I got myself a copy of The Winter’s Tale, which Winterson retells, so that I could see the connections clearly.

This is one of Shakespeare’s later plays, variously described as a romance, a comedy, or (as Winterson tells it) a play about forgiveness. It is indeed funny at times, although also tragic and pathos-ridden: in an echo of Othello, a jealous royal husband accuses his wife and best friend of being unfaithful together, resulting in deaths and betrayals he will deeply regret. The Winter’s Tale is indeed a more forgiving version, however, as the next generation gets a chance to correct these wrongs and start fresh; in fact, depending on your interpretation, even the jealous king himself gets a second chance.

There is the requisite Shakespearean clown, a lovable character known only as Clown; there is the requisite Shakespearean rogue, who successfully appears to the same people over and over in a variety of disguises. Which leads me to another Shakespearean requisite, the suspension of disbelief, as a father disguises himself successfully from his own son who knows him well, and a lost identity is easily provable after a lapse of 16 years. It’s all in good fun, though: these are accepted devices of the stage.

And fun it is, despite the unhappy scenes along the way. I also enjoyed a strong female character who stands up to the king and does not get damned for it: another shrew, if you will, but less ambiguously represented; this one is clearly a hero. The Winter’s Tale is a pleasing blend of humor and romance in the end, and I am excited to explore Winterson’s take on it. I only wish I could see it performed now that I’ve enjoyed Shakespeare’s telling. He remains a master.


Rating: 7 bears.

The Lincoln Theatre presents Romeo and Juliet, the musical

lincolnThe Historic Lincoln Theatre in a town near mine advertised a new musical version of Romeo and Juliet, and I needed little convincing. My parents and I drove down for one of the last productions.

The theatre is beautiful, an old movie house with ornately painted walls, a small lobby and an “art bar” in an adjoining alcove. An orchestra was seated at audience level off to one side of the stage. The music was well performed, and as far as design, it was often a benefit to the play, and sometimes not. The group scenes were fun with the addition of song and dance (the choreography was quite good, playing up the bawdy bits). There were definitely times as well when Shakespeare’s script would have been better spoken than sung – the musical format a little bit forced, you know. Especially in his back-and-forth dialog, his repartee, Shakespeare is pretty near perfect on his own, and those lines should have been left alone. So for the music, a mixed score; but honestly, you’d have to do a lot more than this to mess up Shakespeare, so my criticisms are slight and good-natured; it was great fun to see.

A bigger problem was what I’ll call technical difficulties: our seats were in the second row, with the orchestra curling up along one side of us and the players right in front. They had microphones, but the speakers were behind us. The balance between instrumental music and actors’ voices was badly off: we often couldn’t hear what they were saying or singing at all. (Luckily we know the play well, and the acting makes much clear.) At intermission halfway through we moved well back in the theatre, and the sound quality was so drastically improved – quite good now! – that I’m only sorry we waited that long. We partly missed the balcony scene in that first half. Once the sound issues were resolved by our reseating, I have little to nitpick.

The acting was quite good. Mercutio was outstanding; Juliet’s nurse was great fun; and Romeo and Juliet themselves were, as one would hope, the stars of the show. The actors represented a wide age range, which is again as it should be: Juliet was played by a senior in high school, and though Romeo is listed as a college graduate, he felt plenty youthful for his role. Tybalt is a mere child at 14! But a pretty burly 14, and pulled off the impetuosity required. While Juliet was wonderful – and a fine singer, once I could hear her – I admit Romeo was my favorite actor. He was handsome, dreamy-eyed, romantic and passionate; it was just right.

This play (and so much of Shakespeare) stands the test of time. It was written more than 400 years ago, and I’ve seen it repeatedly, but it’s still so fresh and affecting: every time I ache for Romeo to wait just a little bit longer, for Juliet to wake up in time, for Tybalt to listen to Romeo’s pleas, for Mercutio to recover. And although I had considered myself a little too jaded for this, I admit the romance got to me again, and clearly will the next time I see this play performed. It’s just too good. Shakespeare has his audience wrapped up; the romance and the tragedy are every bit as alive in 2015 as when he wrote these lines in the 1590’s.

There is comedy here, too. I don’t know the histories so well and so won’t comment; but even in his tragedies there is bawdy, physical humor or wordplay. Different interpretations can play these lines up more or less; this one inserted a few pelvic thrusts to good comedic effect.

I don’t want to be too harsh on the musical adaptation; it was often fine and only occasionally the merest bit heavy-handed, but the play as presented by talented actors was outrageously fun and moving and I’d see it again. But I’d sit further back.


Rating: 9 vials for Shakespeare, 8 for the production, 7 for sound.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare

veronaI had a pleasant reread of this early Shakespeare comedy in preparation for the Houston Shakespeare Festival this summer. Of course you saw my post the other day about what a special copy of the book this is…

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is an earlier and a lesser-known Shakespeare play, but I think it’s still excellent in all the usual ways: clever wordplay, mild bawdiness, romantic wafflings or confusions that may threaten our modern sensibilities just a touch, but overall, with the potential to be wildly entertaining in the right hands. I remember the performance I saw as a youngster being accessible (having read the play beforehand helps, of course).

The two gentlemen are Valentine and Proteus, and they are best friends. Valentine is prepared to leave Verona to seek his fortune in Milan; Proteus stays behind because he is in love with Julia, and determined to win her. Valentine finds his love in Sylvia, daughter to the Duke of Milan; and Proteus’s father is convinced to send his son away, separating him from Julia just as they declare their love for each other. Proteus is sent to join his friend Valentine, which should be a happy reunion; but fickle Proteus falls for his friend’s betrothed, betraying both his friend Valentine and his own love, Julia. Determined to win Sylvia away, Proteus reveals Valentine and Sylvia’s elopement plan. The Duke has Valentine banished; and the action of the play moves to the woods.

In what might be seen as a vague early shadow of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the woods are host to a banished Valentine and his servant Speed – who are taken in by a host of bandits – and who are pursued by a grieving Sylvia and her faithful servant – who are pursued by a love-stricken Proteus, her father the Duke, and the Duke’s intended son-in-law Thurio – who are accompanied by Julia, serving as a page (in male drag of course) to Proteus, thereby in pursuit of her love. If you had trouble following that, all is as it should be.

You might recognize a few lines:

What light is light, if Sylvia be not seen?
What joy is joy, if Sylvia be not by?
Unless it be to think that she is by,
And feed upon the shadow of perfection.

Or:

It is the lesser blot, modesty finds,
Women to change their shapes than men their minds.

Speed, servant to Valentine, and Launce, servant to Proteus, have their share of buffoonery, great scenes with wordplay and witticisms that are typical of Shakespearean comedy. All ends well (although we sniff at the treatment of certain female characters, and the slurs upon Jews. Time-typical Shakespeare, again); and the play is, indeed, funny.

I look forward to seeing this summer’s live performance.


Rating: 7 gift-dogs.

habits passed along

As I’ve done in summers past, I was looking forward this summer to seeing some Shakespeare dramatized at Miller Outdoor Theatre, where we can sit outside under the stars and bring dogs & food & drink along, and all the performances are free. This is a summer activity I grew up with and still enjoy. Part of my tradition also involves reading or rereading the plays ahead of time so I’ll be ready to fully enjoy what I see. Therefore, I started checking the website for information on the Houston Shakespeare Festival early this summer, to see what plays they’d be putting on (there is always one comedy and one tragedy or history), with the intention of getting my hands on a copy of each if I didn’t already own them.

This year’s history is Henry IV, 1, which I requested from my local public library. The comedy is The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and I was pretty sure I owned a copy, since I saw it as a child with my grandparents in southern California. I went home to check, and sure enough, my 1964 “general readers” edition from the Folger Library was there on the shelf. I pulled it out and put it in the stack.

I was not prepared for the surprise I got when I opened it up, though. This note is taped into the inside cover:

photo 2 (1)
From my grandmother:

Dear Julie,

We’re planning to take you to this play while you’re with us (it’s an outdoor theater) and since it was written 400 years ago (+/-) the language is real strange to our ears and we thought you (and your parents?) might have fun reading it during your trip! It’s a lot more fun to see it ’cause there are no stage directions in the script so it’s hard to imagine all the action. It is a comedy – really kinda silly, I suppose. But I know you’ll enjoy it more if you’re a bit acquainted with the story…

Have a wonderful time & please give our love to all those nice sisters & cousins & all.

Can’t wait for your visit to us!

Love, Grammy & Pop

P.S. Please bring the book with you!

Can you just believe! This is the very copy provided by Grammy & Pop for me to read before seeing what I’m sure was my first Shakespeare performance ever; and I’ve still got it, and here I am however many years later, going back to see the same play and preparing for it in the same way, by rereading this very copy. It got me thinking about where I got these habits. Grammy puts it in this note in almost the exact way I put it to my friends: “this play will be a lot more enjoyable if you know a little bit about the story ahead of time.” I think I can see who I have to thank for my playgoing practices!

I’m wondering about the year, of course. You can see Grammy dated it with day, month and date – no year, but the day-to-date question, combined with her mention of our other travels that summer, put me at just past my 10th birthday for this event. I also found tucked away a ticket to an Astros game (at the Astrodome! against Philadelphia) from the following summer. And my father’s and grandmother’s memories put it around the same time, so I think we’ll call this my ten-year-old introduction to live performances of Shakespeare. (I might have read some before.)

astro
Finding this note inside this book was a real treat for several reasons. For one thing, it’s always nice to hear from my Grammy, who still sends me newspaper clippings with appended notes like this one! And I am looking forward all the more to seeing The Two Gentlemen of Verona performed this summer, because I’ll be thinking back to that summer more than 20 years ago. But most of all, I think it’s charming to consider where we get our habits from. I guess I’ve just always been a person who enjoyed theatre, and enjoyed reading the written drama beforehand; but of course nothing happens in a vacuum, so it’s really fun to see this clear indication of where I come from. Thanks, Grammy.

Houston Shakespeare Festival presents The Taming of the Shrew

Petruchio and Kate

I saw this production on 8/7 with Husband and another couple. (And I reviewed the written play recently, here.) It was a good time! For one thing, I remembered my spectacles this time, so I could see the stage. Also, we all stayed awake through the whole thing. As I said about Othello, the pacing might have been a bit slow, especially for a performance that was past my bedtime… in the dark… viewed from a blanket on a hill with a glass (or two) of wine (or beer).

I thought this performance was outstanding. The bawdy humor came through loud and clear; even Husband followed the whole thing (with some quick briefing beforehand). Some of the modern costume choices were cute and clever, too, and Husband got a kick out of the scene in which Hortensio, in disguise as an appropriate music instructor, tutors Bianca. He’s sort of wild metal guy, and that was fun.

So we had a lovely evening outside, even in Houston – the key being to wait until after dark to be out there. The Houston Shakespeare Festival, in its 37th year, has done it again. This performance was professional, clearly presented, understandable to regular folk, and funny! The humor of The Taming of the Shrew came through. I really think that, when performing Shakespeare, your job is to just let the bard speak, and they did.

As to the misogyny question, I don’t think they took a stance, but just presented the text, with its underlying bawdiness, and let us draw our own conclusions. I will continue to optimistically believe that Shakespeare didn’t mean for us to take him too literally. Really, Kate’s submission at the end is too ludicrous to be intended seriously – right? What do you think?

Houston Shakespeare Festival presents Othello

I saw this production on July 31st with my old BFF, Gerber. We were sad that my mother couldn’t join us at the last minute. But it was a good time, nevertheless.

I was very glad that I had reread this play before going to see it. I strongly believe that there’s no substitute for this strategy, at least with something like Shakespeare where the language of the play may be a bit foreign. To me, the beauty of a theatre company that really does its Shakespeare properly is that they speak the old English very naturally; but the companion quality, necessary to enjoy it, is the ability to hear it naturally. Having recently read the play, I was able to let the language flow through my head and get all the jokes. (To familiarize yourself, go back and read my review – or, better, go read the whole play!)

I thought the Houston Shakespeare Festival folks did a fine job. Othello was powerful. Iago was odious. Emilia was heroic, more so than in the written play, I felt. Desdemona was more powerful than in print, too: when I read the play she felt like a cowering, simpering, weakly woman, but onstage she came across as a woman with conviction. Granted, her conviction was of love and obedience to her husband, which is not so empowering as one might wish, but still, she spoke with commitment to her values.

I thought the production was wonderful. I was moved. I was also tired, which is a shame, and which I don’t mean as a criticism of the performance at all. But it was past my bedtime, and I drank some wine, and it was dark… Barrett, I guess you’re adding points to my senior card again. Sigh. I wish they could give these plays earlier in the day for us sleepy people, but then it would be too HOT.

The pace of the play was probably a bit slow for me. Maybe that’s my modern-day attention span, although I don’t consider myself to be entirely 21st-century-media-bytes-ADHD. (Can’t stand the Twitter.) Actually, the pacing bothered me a bit in print, too. Maybe it’s knowing what’s going to happen. “C’mon! Strangle her! Tell him how Cassio got the handkerchief! TELL HIM!” At any rate, I had a nice time, although I was out later than usual. And it’s a lovely, deeply tragic play, both on the page and on the stage.

Othello by William Shakespeare

Wow, what a work. There’s a reason we still read, admire, study, and act this play today, what, 4 centuries after its creation. I read this, like The Taming of the Shrew, years ago, but I needed the refresher for the performance I’m going to see tonight.

What can I say about Othello? Othello is “the Moor,” a general in the Venetian army. He has happily married the beautiful Desdemona, and they have set out together to Cyprus where Othello has been posted. They are a happy and loving couple, but Shakespeare gives them a tragic fate. There are men about who do not wish them well. Iago is the main villain; he is jealous of Cassio, who Othello chooses as a second in command. He uses Rodrigo, who wanted to marry Desdemona, as a pawn. Iago tricks Othello, who believes him to be a faithful friend, into thinking that Desdemona and Cassio are lovers. He convinces Rodrigo that Desdemona will be his if he will just kill Cassio; really, Iago wants them both dead, and also encourages Othello to kill his wife. His intention is to gain himself political power. He also uses his wife, Emilia, servant to Desdemona. The handkerchief is the fateful detail: Othello gave it to Desdemona; Iago obtains it and plants it on Cassio; and it seals the innocent, saintly Desdemona’s fate. The final tragic scene ends with Othello’s murder of Desdemona, his discovery of Iago’s treachery, and his suicide.

It is classic Shakespearean tragedy, reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet in that final scene as Othello laments over his beloved wife’s body. The important difference, of course, is that there was no murder in Romeo and Juliet; Othello cannot be an entirely sympathetic character. It is especially frustrating to hear the faithful Emilia argue Desdemona’s innocence and have Othello reject it. But Iago, as I said, is the real villain; Othello is victim to his machinations.

I enjoyed this play all over again and always recommend it, as I do all of Shakespeare’s work. I’ve always been a big fan. I tend to think that I prefer the comedies, but in rereading his tragedies I find the same genius and the same ability to wrench my emotions in the desired direction. He was truly a great artist. I do have a fondness for the comedies, though; I forget, until I see or read them again, how accessible and universal the humor is. Last summer I went to A Midsummer Night’s Dream as produced by the Houston Shakespeare Festival, and marveled, once more, at how appealing, funny, and fun it is. Please! If you’re in Houston, don’t miss this annual summer event. Again, this year they’re producing Othello and The Taming of the Shrew, and it’s FREE, and you can sit on the hill with your dog and/or your picnic dinner and/or your beer, wine, whatever. Couldn’t be better. Check out the Miller Outdoor Theatre schedule for details.

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

I am sure I have read this play before, because I have some vague memory of it; but I don’t know when. My reread is inspired by the Houston Shakespeare Festival: I’m going to go see both this, and Othello, in the next week. Fellow Houstonians, don’t miss this event! These two plays are both showing 4-5 times, in the next 8 days or so, at Miller Outdoor Theatre. For FREE. It’s an awesome summer tradition; I’ve been attending the Shakespeare Fest every summer since I was small. Don’t think I’m going to find time to reread Othello, sadly.

So. The Taming of the Shrew is not one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays (and was rather hard to find at Half Price Books. Lots of Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Night’s Dream. Thus my very sweet, but visually unstimulating, little Yale Shakespeare blue cloth-bound hardback, pictured), but I think it’s a nice little romp. It’s a comedy involving two sisters: Bianca, the younger, has several suitors; she is attractive and admired. Her older sister Katherina, however, is very difficult, sharp-tongued, scolding, and generally unattractive to prospective suitors. Their father Baptista forbids any suitors to Bianca until such time as Katherina is married. I’m not entirely clear on whether it was his express intention or not, but the result of this is that Bianca’s suitors set out looking for a husband for Katherina, aka the shrew. They find a willing suitor, Petruchio, who feels that Kate’s wealth is worth the fight, and he has a plan. Thus the title: Petruchio sets out to tame the shrew, using such ugly, abusive, domineering, insane behavior that she gives up being “shrewish” and submits to his every desire, agreeing with any crazy thing he says. (The sun is the moon. An old man is a beautiful young maiden. Yes, husband, anything you say.) Petruchio weds, and tames, Kate; sundry other characters wed too. Lucentio marries Bianca, and Hortensio marries a widow (also for her money). The three new husbands make a bet on their wives, as to who can be shown to be most obedient. Petruchio’s reformed shrew wins him the bet, and she ends the play with a speech arguing that a woman should serve and obey her “lord” (husband).

There has been much controversy over this play, pretty much since it was born, regarding gender/marital roles, misogyny, feminism. I’m a bit inclined to agree with the camp that says Shakespeare was actually on the women’s side and was being instructively tongue-in-cheek, but mostly I’m willing to sit back and hear what you think; I don’t find it entirely clear what Shakespeare had in mind, from this distance. (I never did finish Fraser’s Young Shakespeare and thus have not started his Shakespeare: The Later Years. I found the writing awfully dry. If I ever finish these, or find a more palatable biography, perhaps I’ll take a stab at pretending I know what he had in mind. Until then, I am agnostic on this point.) At any rate, it’s an interesting study. Yes, Petruchio’s treatment of Kate is offensive; yes, her final speech makes me shiver. But she wasn’t a respectably independent woman early on; she was just kind of bitchy. Neither of them is sympathetic. So, it’s not as clear-cut as, Petruchio destroys Kate’s fine and virtous strong-woman spirit, or anything.

At any rate, I’m almost certain the upcoming performance will be the first time I’ve seen this play onstage, and I look forward to seeing how the Festival handles the political problems of The Taming of the Shrew. You can expect to see my write-up of the show soon.

Anybody read this play? How do you react to the chauvinism?

The Great Night by Chris Adrian

This book is billed as a modern-day retelling of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which sounds fairly ambitious. The original classic is far too much to mess around with lightly. I find it beautiful, haunting, magical, and surprisingly accessible; I think anyone and everyone should be able to enjoy a production of this play, which might not be true of all the bard’s work, no matter how wonderful. But I have to give Adrian full credit: I feel that he created something new out of it, definitely a recognizable retelling, but something new and beautiful in its own way, very different and very wonderful too.

Three young people, Henry, Will, and Molly, are all (separately) lost in Buena Vista Park in San Francisco at dusk on midsummer night’s eve. All three were on their way to the same party which none really wanted to attend; all three are tenuously connected without actually knowing one another; and all three are quite neurotic in their own ways. Meanwhile, Titania is grief-stricken, having lost her Boy to leukemia (and being unfamiliar with the mortal concept of death), and then having lost Oberon, who left her when they quarreled in their shared grief. In despair and resignation, she releases Puck from his bond of servitude, and he rages as the Beast throughout the park. Also meanwhile, a troupe of homeless aspiring actors meet to rehearse a musical play, but are separated, as the fairies come out to frolic, or flee Puck, or make mischief.

Chapter by chapter we get inside the heads of the three mortal lovers, and sometimes of Titania too. The character development is exquisite; I loved learning more about the histories of Will, Molly, and Henry, and gradually putting together the clues and learning how they’re interconnected and where their respective neuroses might have come from. The depth of these complex, nuanced, disturbed characters might have been my most favorite part of this book.

Titania gets substantially more development, too. The lengthened and deepened relationship with the Boy, and his battle with cancer, allow for her to mature and look outside herself in ways that a fairy queen would not normally be called to do. Even Puck gets a more significant personality, and desires of his own.

Part fairy tale – of course – The Great Night has all the magic and all the lavish scenery that Shakespeare’s Titania & Oberon could have wanted, helped along by the alternately lush & misty San Francisco parkland. As in the play, there are disturbing moments; but these are fully fleshed out. I guess the great difference here is that this is a lengthy novel (~300 pages) with all the exposition that comes with this format, and there is simply less opportunity in a slim play for this kind of development. But Adrian’s work is darker, and more graphic. (There is Sex. Seriously.) The ending is not lighthearted and happy as it is in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Among the mortal characters, we meet a tree doctor; men and women recovering from the suicides of loved ones; and the mess that OCD can make of a life; the lovers are gay and straight but always damaged. But the worlds are so fully realized… and the three youth are so fully developed, I ached for them. When every chapter closed, I regretted leaving that chapter’s focus character, but was happy to reunite with the next.

This was one of those books I was very sorry to see the end of. I wish there were more. Luckily, Adrian has written other books!

I recommend The Great Night. Certainly nothing is taken away from Shakespeare’s masterpiece; but this is a different realization of the same story-skeleton, in a different format, and it is absolutely an accomplishment all by itself.

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