I love Jeanette Winterson. Oranges are not the only fruit was the first adult book I borrowed from the library and I can remember the life changing moment of reading about a life that was complex and modern. In 2014 I heard her talk about her autobiography Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal and I shed tears of laughter and sadness. I was very excited to review this book.
The Gap of Time is the first title in the Hogarth Shakespeare series: this major international project will see Shakespeare’s plays re-imagined by some of today’s best-selling and most celebrated writers. Winterson was previously involved with the Cannongate project to retell myths from a female perspective so she has experience with similar projects, and they give a chance for the quality of her writing to shine through. In some ways these ventures can seem very esoteric, assuming a prior knowledge of Shakespeare or myths, but Winterson tells a great story without needing to know the original and the book begins with a concise précis of the original story before the ‘cover version’ begins.
Initially I was surprised to hear male voices as the main protagonists tending to associate Winterson with feminist writing and women. It worked well though - the big emotions seemed less ‘mawkish’ than they might have done and the story seemed stronger.
The language is beautiful – describing grief one the characters talks of his wife no longer being there but his mind being full of her. The book is shadowed by big issues including euthanasia, baby abandonment and infidelity without becoming about these. The story is on a human scale- it is about people. The thing I love about Jeanette Winterson's more autobiographical work is the creation of characters who are flawed but loveable, who do deeply stupid things but mean well. This is present in The Gap of Time.
Autobiographical writing often avoids the assumption that there will be a happy ending, or even an ending. Stories will continue creating more stories, one flawed character will impact on another. This too was present in this book. We see the complexity of interwoven timelines- the events that would lead to baby abandonment, the events that would lead to the adoption of a baby and the feeling that the story will continue to run.
I loved the story and I loved the narrators chosen to tell it. The voices were so different from each other that they created a feeling of difference in the time and place that the sections of the story occupied. I’d definitely recommend this book.
I give The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson a superb five out of five stars.