The Gap of Time

Like many British schoolchildren, my first introduction to the work of Jeanette Winterson was during my GCSE English Literature lessons when I studied Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. When I told my parents that it was one of the texts I was reading for my coursework, my mother’s comment was something along the lines of ‘Oh, she’s one of the lesbian authors, right?’ (The other being Sarah Waters, whose novels I would later read at university). The Gap of Time was released in 2013 and has sat on my to-read list ever since I first heard it was coming out. Described by the author as a cover version, it takes on the plot, material and substance of William Shakespeare’s most baffling play The Winter’s Tale and reimagines it in a modern setting. The result isn’t entirely successful but is regularly breath-takingly and beautifully written.

The court of King Leontes is transferred to London’s money market, via Leo the founder of a hedge fund named Sicilia. Leo’s wife MiMi (Hermione) is a famous French singer and the novel opens with him spiralling in a deep rage over the suspicion that she is sleeping with his best friend Xen (Polixenes), made even worse by the fact that the two men were once lovers whilst at school together. What follows is an extraordinary reworking of the play, with New Bohemia becoming a city in Louisiana where Perdita is raised by bar-owner Shep, a black man who takes in a white baby girl and raises her as his own with barely a second thought. The transformation of Autolycus into a used-car salesman was mildly jarring, but on the whole this was a reimagining brimming with life, energy, and, above all, love. It is love, in all its forms, that filled the pages and bound the narrative tightly together.

There has been some criticism amongst some readers that providing such detailed and sensitive backstories for all of the characters removes some of the mystery of the original play. For those who love The Winter’s Tale, this may well be the case, especially as the ending loses much of its otherworldly-ness, more out of necessity than anything else. In a modern setting, a statue that turns into a human is never going to work. However, in this reader’s opinion, the novel is a separate entity from the play and is a compelling read just as it is. The little details that reference the original script are a joy for a Shakespeare fan, but there is no reason someone who has never read the play shouldn’t enjoy this book. Personally, I couldn’t put it down and I’m now sorely tempted to dig out my copies of Oranges and Sexing the Cherry and revisit Winterson’s work all over again, this time as an adult.

I give it 4.5/5 stars.