Novelizing Shakespearean plays. Novel idea, right? I have this feeling that the recent “trend” (I’ve read three different takes on three different plays in the last four months) isn’t really new; that somewhere out there other authors have taken on Shakespeare and tried to make him more accessible.
If not, then why not? He’s just loaded with story ideas…
This one, by Caroline B. Cooney takes on Macbeth. It’s not exactly a happy play; but as far as tragedies go, I like this one best. Granted, it’s been years since I’ve read or seen it (and since I couldn’t remember it well, I kept wondering how the book measured up; but it isn’t necessary to understand the book), but I remember thinking that it was not only a good, cohesive play (it makes more sense than Hamlet!), but it’s got enough of the supernatural in there to scare you silly.
I think that Cooney did a marvelous job re-creating the mood of the play. The narration flips back and forth between characters, some of whom are Shakespearean. We follow Lady Mary (who isn’t in the play), daughter of the Thane of Cawdor (who is), and ward of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. We learn about Swin, the cook; Ildred, Lady Macbeth’s lady-in-waiting, as well as Seyton and Fleance (who are mentioned in the play, but has an expanded role). It’s a complicated thing, flitting between narrators, and generally I find it distracting. But I think it helps with the mood in this case; we are supposed to feel a measure of confusion and uncertainty, and having different people tell us different aspects of the story helps with that. I also like that the book feels spooky. The undercurrent of the witches are there… and Macbeth’s (and others) descent from the noble to the cursed is visible and affecting.
I did have a few issues with the book — Lady Mary as a main character was fairly weak; she spent much of the book lurking around wondering what she should do. It’s understandable; being the 14-year-old daughter of a traitor leaves her in a precarious situation. Still, it wasn’t until the last third of the book that I actually began to like her as a character. I liked the other narrators, though, so they kept me going when Lady Mary was uninteresting. And the plot point where Ildred became pregnant and had a baby which was killed in the course of the book, I felt like it came from nowhere. I did go back and read some sections after finishing and realized that the hints were there, but they were sufficiently subtle that I completely missed them. So, it may just be me.
Overall, though, I liked the book and think it’d be a good companion read with the play. (Maybe I’ll even get around to reading/seeing it again someday.)