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275 pages, Hardcover
First published February 9, 2016
Think of it as one for the Jews.
I f*cking love (this book).
We had a chance at a Homeland and we blew it. Belonging was never what we were good at anyway. Being a stranger is what we do. It's the diaspora, they are at pains to assure me, that brings out the best in us. Which neatly sidesteps the question of what brings out the best in them. But they feel no embarrassment in proclaiming that the proper Jew is a wandering Jew. Citizens of everywhere and nowhere, dandified tramps subsisting wherever we can squeeze ourselves in, at the edges and in the crevices. Precarious but urbane, like flâneurs clinging to a rock face, expressing our marvellously creative marginality.But Shakespeare's Shylock is only one of twenty characters; Jacobson still has to retell the rest of the play, and here he is much less successful. He seems determined to ridicule all the romantic qualities of the original plot. The heiress Portia, for example, becomes a much-botoxed television personality named Anna Livia Plurabelle Cleopatra A Thing of Beauty Is A Joy Forever Christine, or Plury for short. Barney (Bassanio), her lover, is a mere boy, vacuous but pretty. Gratan Howsome (Gratiano), who runs off with Strulovitch's daughter, is a muscle-bound footballer, thrice divorced and twice her age, a stud without a single claim to culture. Jacobson does have an interesting take on Shakespeare's title character, the merchant Antonio, by making him a refined homosexual aesthete named D'Anton. His dealings with Strulovitch are no longer about money but art; both men are well-known collectors and connoisseurs. Jacobson's novel is full of references to Shakespeare's play, which may delight those who know it well, but he can hardly be said to retell it. Unlike its predecessor in the series, Jeanette Winterson's retelling of The Winter's Tale as The Gap of Time , which follows the action pretty closely, those who come to Jacobson without knowing Shakespeare will have a very hard time of it indeed.
A question, then, for Shylock:
How merry was your bond? When you set the forfeit at an equal pound of Antonio's fair flesh, to be cut off and taken from whatever part of his body it pleased you, what intended you by it? What intended you by it in the spirit of jest – that's to say how far in earnest were you, and how far playing the devil they expected you to be? And what intended you in the matter of anatomy? Did you mean salaciously, flirtatiously even, to designate Antonio's penis as it pleased you to take? Was that the pound of his fair flesh – weighing hyperbolically – you originally had your sights set on, before all jests went out of the window with your daughter?
The two men, who would rather not, in any circumstances, wish to be exchanging glances, direct their gazes over each others' shoulder. If D'Anton were a pirate with a parrot, Strulovitch would be addressing that. D'Anton himself is looking even further to the rear of his guest, as though at Strulovitch's grandparents in their headscarves and skullcaps, falling under the hooves of Cossacks' horses, muttering to their mouldy god while their hovels go up in flames...But enough of that, D'Anton tells himself.
It is wrong not to know where you got your sweet Christian sentiments from. It is morally and historically wrong not to know that Jesus was a Jewish thinker and that when you quote him against us you are talking vicious nonsense. Charity is a Jewish concept. So is mercy. You took them from us, that is all. You appropriated them. They were given freely, but still you had to steal them.