Title: Shylock Is My Name
Series: Hogarth Shakspear series
Author: Howard Jacobson
Published Date: February 9th, 2016
Rating: 3.5 Stars
I received this novel from The Reading Room and Blogging for Books for free in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis (From Goodreads)
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.”
275 pages of dramatic nonsense, in which nothing is solved, and everyone still hates each other, so basically a masterful retelling of Shakspear.
This book has been a bizarre journey for me. I equally felt both perturbed and fascinated by it. Clearly I either haven’t read Shakespeare’s A Merchant of Venice, or I don’t remember a lick of it. There was so much Anti-Semitism in this book…even from the Jewish characters. No one could seem to actually adhere to any one way of thinking; and therefore I liked no one. Possibly these are the over the top versions of a sort of person. One moment an obsessive Jew or Christian, the next neither. It’s enough to make your head spin.
Shylock, is by far the worst character, mainly because I am still confused as to what he is, or is intended to be other than the instigator of the drama. At times I was sure he was a figment of Strulovich’s imagination; a type of reconciliation with the Jew he wants to be but cannot find himself to adhere to. However, Shylock often interacted with other characters; but NO ONE was like ‘who the hell is this character?!?’
Anyway, Shylock drops in from nowhere; instigates the process of Strulovich claiming his ‘pound of flesh’; and then begins to implore some Mercy on the Christians behalf…WTF! Shylock you are a monster! Which I suppose was the point. In a sense Shylock his the conscience of all parties, I imagine. No one is at all the cause of this drama, and yet everyone must take a piece of blame.
Howard Jacobson, is by far, possibly a brilliant representation of a modern Shakspear. If nothing else he definitely has the verbosity down pat.
This is 3 star and a 4 star; because much like the characters in this story, I cannot make up my mind.