Author: Howard Jacobson
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Amazon|Indiebound |Goodreads
Summary: This was a clever, creative retelling, but I sometimes felt as though the author was trying too hard to be clever.
This retelling of The Merchant of Venice is the first book I’ve read in the exciting new Hogarth Shakespeare collection of retellings. Not only does this story include a modern retelling of The Merchant of Venice, mostly from the perspective of the modern day Shylock, the original Shylock himself shows up to have philosophical discussions, give advice, and possibly interfere.
Knowing that this book was written by an author who has had several books nominated for the Man Booker Prize and based on things I’ve heard about prize winners, I went into this worried that it might be a little pretentious. Given my expectations, perhaps it’s not surprising that this is how the book felt to me. There are some authors who I imagine have carefully selected every word in their book based on emotional intuition. Reading this book, instead I imagined the author carefully selecting every word while poring over a thesaurus. That’s not to say that words felt improperly used. The language was beautiful and the wording felt spot on. I just also felt as though the author had tried really hard to sound clever and the fact that he succeeded didn’t make me love that feeling.
Once I got past overthinking the writing, I did really enjoy this book. The writing was clever, as was the story. I loved the creativity of this take on a retelling, especially the magical realism when Shylock talked about his story being suspended where the play ended. The conversations with him and his influence on the story were both interesting devices. The story was a bit snarkier and more cynical than I remember the original being and actually reminded me more of Austen than Shakespeare, but an author reminding me of Austen is never something I’ll complain about! If you like books written in a more literary style, I’d definitely recommend giving this a chance.