The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson.
After my recent trip to see Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale and being a little disappointed (!) I wasn't sure that I really wanted to read a novel based on the play.
I'm glad that I didn't put it off however as this was very, very clever. Unlike many books based on Shakespeare's plays this one actually follows the plot very closely and it works brilliantly.
The plot has been updated to modern times and has a slight dystopian feel to it. All of the plot points from the play are included and although the catalyst of Leonte's jealousy appears from nowhere and seems preposterous but it is cleverly worked with some extra back story to make it more understandable as the novel unravels.
The novel form also allows us to stay in touch with the two halves of the plot far better than the play did, which makes it seem a little more rounded. We also stay a little better in touch with all of the characters and so their personal story lines work and this helps the reveals at the end of the story to mirror the play but to also work in a modern day setting.
Knowing the play well meant that at first I was bemused by the opening scene and slight re-working of the plot time line but by the end it all came together and I was carried away with the story and not at all bothered by the 'pastoral' scenes when they appeared. I believed in all of the characters and even disliked the 'comic' ones less than those in the play!
My only criticism is that Jeanette Winterson couldn't resist putting herself into the plot, that self-reference really jumped out to me and I felt was unnecessary, surely the prestige of being chosen to write 'official' Shakespeare reworkings to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death is enough, without having to immortalise yourself in the text too?
I think that this will work as a stand alone novel if you aren't familiar with The Winter's Tale but reading it as a companion to the play really worked for me. I can't wait to read the next volumes in this series.