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The Gap of Time, by Jeanette Winterson.

August 30, 2015

The Gap of Time, by Jeanette Winterson. New York : Hogarth, 2015. Forthcoming

5 stars

A powerful contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale by a talented and creative English author.

Hogarth Press, founded by Virginia and Leonard Woolf in 1917, is publishing a series of books reinterpreting Shakespearean plays for today’s generation. They have chosen acclaimed contemporary authors for each book. Jeanette Winterson has been asked to reinterpret The Winter’s Tale. Her success has convinced me to read the other books in this series and more books by Winterson.

Jeanette Winterson is a prolific English writer. Her many novels have widely praised for their literary excellence. She grew up in an Evangelical working-class family in northern England, eventually leaving both her family and her religion. Her writing is not always chronological, but in this book at least, it is highly accessible and simply a joy to read. Reading her own comments on her writings on her website, I was moved by her commitment to words, connections, and exploration of new ideas. Check out the site to get a taste of who she is and what she is doing.

I remembered little about The Winter’s Tale and was grateful to Winterson for beginning her book with a brief summary.  Her account sticks closely to the original in general shape, but she images what happens in contemporary terms.  She depicts Leo and Xeno, the king and his friend in the original, as bisexual with an intense relationship dating from boarding school.  As in Shakespeare’s version, Leo becomes angry because, without any evidence, he suspects that Xeno is the father of the child his wife is carrying.  Winterson reveals his anger springs from his desire for Xeno as much as from jealousy over his wife. When the baby is born, Leo tries to send her to Enos in distant Louisiana. Instead she falls into the hands of a black man and his son who raise her tenderly. After the “gap in time,” the characters are brought back together and are reunited by Leo’s daughter and Xeno’s son.

Trying to summarize either Shakespeare or Winterson takes away the sheer wonder of their writing.  Like Shakespeare, Winterson has amazing insight into human beings and remarkable skill with words.  As she relates in the conclusion, Winterson sees forgiveness at the heart of both her account and the original.  When people experience bad events, they have three choices; revenge, tragedy, and forgiveness.  Time cannot be reversed, and the past is always present, haunting us like an ambush or a beggar.  But hope lies in our ability to forgive and begin again.  Many of the stories we know relate to separation and the fall from paradise, and images of falling run through the book.  In the end, the lost child shows her real father the diamonds that have always been hers and explains who she really is.  Revelation must happen in order for the characters to move on.  The new generation brings forgiveness to the brokenness around them.

And the story fell out stone by stone, shining and held, the way time is held in a diamond, the way the light is held in each stone.  And the stone speak, and what was silent opens its mouth to tell a a story and the story is set in stone to break the stone.  What happened happened.


The past is a grenade that explodes when thrown.


All I can do is to recommend this book as highly as possible to readers who appreciate a book that leads them to feel and think more deeply.

Thanks to Edelweiss and Hogarth Press for sending me an electronic copy of this fine book.  When I request reviews copies, I am never sure what I will receive.  A book like this one makes the pre-publication review process very rewarding for me.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 30, 2015 8:25 pm

    You know, after Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, I’ve never been tempted by Winterson, nor by this series, but your review makes me think I might look out for it. (To be honest, I can’t now remember quite why I disliked Oranges so much, which is probably a good sign, eh?)

  2. August 30, 2015 9:25 pm

    Good for you. Your comment came right through!

    I read something of hers and found it too complicated for my taste, but no problem of that here. I am also not big on contemporary retelling of classics, but this was surprisingly fun.

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