Reviewed by Ambrea
The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson retells one of Shakespeare’s classic plays, The Winter’s Tale, and transports readers from the mythical coast of Bohemia to the sprawling modern metropolis of London. The year is 2008, Leo and his beloved wife, Hermione (MiMi), are happily married and set to welcome their new baby into the world—except Leo isn’t so happy, and he doesn’t believe this baby belongs to him. In fact, he’s dead set against raising a child that he believes belongs to his traitorous best friend.
Meanwhile, after the dust settles and Leo’s duplicity tears apart his life, Shep and his son, Clo, discover a tiny baby named Perdita left out in the rain. Making a spur-of-the-moment decision, Shep decides to adopt her into the family—and his choice will forever change the course of their lives as young Perdita grows and learns of her startlingly tragic heritage.
The Gap of Time was an intriguing novel. Part tragedy, part redemption, The Gap of Time does a fair job of transporting Shakespeare’s play to the modern era. It conveys all the conflict, all the tragedy and love and joy and hurt of The Winter’s Tale, but it also gives his iconic characters a little more color, a little more depth, which I enjoyed. And, speaking of characters, I really want to mention Shep.
Aside from Autolycus, who is basically a crooked car salesman with a heart of gold, Shep is probably my favorite character. He has this gentle, genuine quality to him that I appreciated the more I got to know him (and other characters), and he has such a wonderful narrative. For instance, in the first chapter (if it can be called a chapter), Shep details the tragedies that have beset him and he tells readers how he happened across Perdita. Yes, I found his thoughts were rather tangled up with the past, caught up in the regrets that plague him and the memories that haven’t quite settled; however, his narrative is heavy with emotion and purpose. It has a lyrical quality to it that makes his words sound absolutely beautiful.
I loved the way he describes his first encounter with Perdita, how he describes his out of body experience of finding the baby and knowing, just knowing she was in his life for good: “I realise without realising that I’ve got the tyre lever in my hand. I move without moving to prise open the hatch. It is easy. I lift out the baby and she’s as light as a star.”
Or when Shep decided, in one moment the importance of this child in his life—and recognized the impact of important moments:
“The cars come and the cars go between me and my crossing the street. The anonymous always-in-motion world. The baby and I stand still, and it’s as if she knows that a choice has to be made.
“Or does it? The important things happen by chance. Only the rest gets planned.
“I walked round the block thinking I’d think about it, but my legs were heading home, and sometimes you have to accept that your heart knows what to do.”
His lines are, by far, the best found in the book.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is Leo, Perdita’s biological father. Personally, I hated—yes, hated—Leo. Leo never seems to understand what he did wrong. I mean, sure he’s remorseful for his actions after they destroy the lives of so many (his wife, his daughter, his best friend, his son, and his own), but, even after the nuclear fallout has settled, he doesn’t quite seem to grasp that his actions—his jealousy, his vindictive attitude, his sense of superiority, his abject cruelty—is what drove everyone he loved away and resulted in so many heavy casualties.
At the end, he’s not the lion of a man he was at one time; however, he doesn’t seem to have learned much of anything either. Maybe, I don’t understand his humor (his racist/anti-semitic playfulness that Pauline merely ignores or his complicated almost cruel relationship with Xeno); maybe, I don’t understand him, period. Either way, I feel like Leo just didn’t develop as a character and he didn’t learn from his mistakes. He was too stubborn to accept Perdita as his daughter, too jealous to accept that his wife wasn’t sleeping with his best friend, and simply too cruel. I mean, he doesn’t even bother to contact his wife—the woman he supposedly loves beyond comprehension—after their world is torn asunder and he doesn’t bother to seek out his daughter, if he ever even accepts that she’s his.
I much preferred Shep. Like Leo, Shep is grieving and hurt by the “anonymous always-in-motion world,” but he doesn’t let it hollow him out, turn him into a raving madman or a violent, vindictive father. He lets Perdita into his life, unlike Leo, and he lets love back into his life. He doesn’t cast it aside, and he doesn’t try to ruin lives because he’s hurt. He makes an effort to change his life; he makes an effort to be kind. I can’t help thinking Perdita got a much better deal when she wound up in his care.
Additionally, I feel like I should point out that I didn’t really understand The Gap of Time. It just didn’t strike the right note with me, so to speak, and it didn’t appeal to me on an emotional level, because I didn’t understand the characters—that is, I couldn’t connect with them. Much of Winterson’s novel is told in this odd, almost meandering verse that is part omniscient, omnipresent narration and part stream-of-consciousness monologuing.
It actually reminded me a lot of The Sound in the Fury, in that I didn’t quite understand it either. Not only does it hopscotch through time, it utilizes a style of writing that makes it difficult to read. It feels scattered, unhinged, especially when Leo is involved. I couldn’t stand when Leo was involved, I couldn’t stand his jealous rantings or his madman-like ravings. It made the story difficult to stomach and altogether too brutal.
Overall, I had a hard time understanding and connecting to Winterson’s novel. It made me squirm, but it didn’t make me think. It made me feel sympathy for Perdita, for Hermione (MiMi) and their shared plight, but it didn’t make me feel sorry that Perdita was ripped from her home and given a parent who loved her with the unbounded, unconditional love that a parent feels for their offspring.
It made me feel revulsion, but it didn’t make me feel joy, which I found very disappointing.
(Note: This is another of the Hogarth Shakespeare books which has contemporary authors re-imagining the plays.)