Title: Shylock is my Name
Author: Howard Jacobson
Publisher: Hogarth Shakespeare
Published Date: 9th February 2016
Rating: 4 Stars
*Thanks to the publisher for the review copy*
Synopsis: Man Booker Prize-winner Howard Jacobson brings his singular brilliance to this modern re-imagining of one of Shakespeare’s most unforgettable characters: Shylock
Winter, a cemetery, Shylock. In this provocative and profound interpretation of “The Merchant of Venice,” Shylock is juxtaposed against his present-day counterpart in the character of art dealer and conflicted father Simon Strulovitch. With characteristic irony, Jacobson presents Shylock as a man of incisive wit and passion, concerned still with questions of identity, parenthood, anti-Semitism and revenge. While Strulovich struggles to reconcile himself to his daughter Beatrice’s “betrayal” of her family and heritage – as she is carried away by the excitement of Manchester high society, and into the arms of a footballer notorious for giving a Nazi salute on the field – Shylock alternates grief for his beloved wife with rage against his own daughter’s rejection of her Jewish upbringing. Culminating in a shocking twist on Shylock’s demand for the infamous pound of flesh, Jacobson’s insightful retelling examines contemporary, acutely relevant questions of Jewish identity while maintaining a poignant sympathy for its characters and a genuine spiritual kinship with its antecedent—a drama which Jacobson himself considers to be “the most troubling of Shakespeare’s plays for anyone, but, for an English novelist who happens to be Jewish, also the most challenging.”
Review: Shylock is My Name is a book I have been pining to read since I heard about it. And it did live up to my expectations even though it was absolutely nothing like I was expecting it to be. The writing style at the beginning completely threw me. It was more literature than I had expected – even though this is a retelling of Shakespeare, I somehow wasn’t expecting it to be like that. But the further I read, the more I fell in love with the beautiful writing style and the story. The wording was done so well and it built up the story perfectly.
The best thing about this novel was how thought provoking it was. It does help to have read The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare, because the book is based on it. I was a little confused when I was trying to draw the parallels between this book and the play. The storyline of Portia was clearly the same as the one of Plurabelle in this novel. But Shylock’s story with wanting his bond and all that occurs in The Merchant of Venice has already happened. Instead of Shylock’s story we are getting Strulovitch’s, which cleverly twists to run parallels with Shylock’s old story. It was incredibly well done and I loved seeing the similarities in the retelling.
This one also heavily focuses on the theme of discrimination, religion, and religious culture. Especially Judaism, seeing as the original play is based around this. I know that the focus being on this will put off some readers, but seeing as I haven’t read many books about Judaism it intrigued me all the more. I learned some things, and it made me think of some others. You could easily replace the word Jew here with other culture titles or religions and you might even get a similar story. It’s amazing how well this relates to some issues present day, but to see that you’ll have to do some of your own analysing.
I also liked that Shylock and Strulovitch were both fathers who had to raise their children alone for whatever reason. It’s interesting to the different approaches they take, although they both are landing in the extreme.
D’Anton was another character I liked. He seemed to simply want to play the father to everyone and be of help. But sometimes it put him in difficult situations and it was so sad to see how events unfolded around him.
|This book definitely had me contemplating things…
Without knowing what there was, there was quite a bit of rising suspense. The outcome wasn’t a mind blowing plot twist, but it wasn’t what I predicted either.
The best way for me to describe this book would be as pleasantly surprising? A gentle read but one that rested heavily on my mind. I’d recommend it and look forward to the next book of its nature.
Olivia’s Question: Do you like Shakespeare? Do you have a favourite play or sonnet of his?