Jeanette Winterson’s Complicated Shakespeare

By Malcolm Harris for The New Republic, 5 January 2016

To call Jeanette Winterson a novelist would be to sell her short. The novel is a limited thing, a technology like the bicycle pump or the gas stove. Stories are much older, a species constant, like cooking and language. Novels are fiction, while stories can be true or false or neither. “Trust me, I’m telling you stories,” Winterson repeats in The Passion, and it’s a line that could go beneath her name wherever it appears.

Winterson’s latest book The Gap of Time is a classic kind of story: a retelling. She played with the form a decade ago with Weight, a retelling of the myth of Atlas and Heracles. But where Weight was artfully jumbled, with Laika the space dog somehow playing a big role, Gap of Time is a realist update of Shakespeare’sThe Winter’s Tale. It’s a strange choice: Why not do one of the more dramatic plays, like Macbeth or Othello? With its “happily ever after” pat conclusion,Winter’s Tale is Oedipus for kids. The play is best known for including the most famous stage direction of all time: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” 

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