Bill Kupersmith's Reviews > As I Descended

As I Descended by Robin Talley
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This book took me ages to read; needed an audible to carry me over the finish line. It’s also taken months to get round to writing a review & I’d probably not have bothered except a reader gave me a like on my nonexistent review so I felt guilty there was no review to accompany it. So here it is. To summarize: a Shakespearean pastiche as school story & a better pastiche than story.

Adaptations of Shakespeare are so in vogue these days, & generally they don’t appeal. Reworking an old plot, even Shakespeare’s, isn’t my idea of literary artistry. I’m also distracted; unable to focus on whether I’m enjoying the story or enjoying how cleverly the author has adapted the original. I very much enjoyed Exit, Pursued by a Bear, but about all that was borrowed in that one were characters’ names & a vague atmosphere of Shakespearean late romance. In As I Descended we stick very close to the movement of the plot of Macbeth, which also supplies the principal characters as well, set in a contemporary American boarding school. Which is the main reason I chose to read it - I love school stories.

Not inappropriately, there are lots of ghost story elements as well; Macbeth is famous for its theatrical curse. Here the school has the marvelous name Acheron Academy - a joke Carol Goodman has used & I intend to borrow as well. For me a good school story needs an interesting school; bad school stories tend to be written by Salinger wannabes who despise their own creations. Acheron is different in being located in the south in an old slaveholder’s mansion & sometime around 1800 something horrible happened. Tho’ the spooky stuff was well integrated with the plot, I simply didn’t find it very scary & felt like add-on special effects.

To adapt the story to a cast of schoolgirls & boys, the throne of Scotland has become a juicy scholarship to Stanford called the Cawdor (hello!) Kingsley Prize. Head girl Delilah appears to be a shoo-in till Lily urges her lover Maria to take Delilah out of the running. At which point you’re thinking: I get it, acronyms. Delilah=Duncan, Lily=Lady Macbeth, Maria=Macbeth. Unfortunately, except that Lily’s a schemer, initial is about all they have in common with their Shakespearean models. There is another pair of lovers: Brandon & Mateo, & you think, I don’t recall Banquo & Macduff as a pair. But we can guess what’ll happen to Brandon & we indeed get a version of Banquo’s ghost in As I Descended. Lily, by the way, has a bad leg & needs crutches tho’ I wasn’t sure why. Maybe like Richard III’s deformed back, it’s symbolic of her innner evil.

Tho’ not a bad book, reading it was like watching marathon dancers or contortionists - it’s remarkable that it’s done at all even though it’s not particularly attractive. None of the relationships were believable or affecting & the characters felt under-motivated (dare I admit I have this problem with Shakespeare too?). I liked it better than John Green’s Looking for Alaska (now that’s “damning with faint praise” indeed). There are just so many better school stories.
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Reading Progress

September 16, 2016 – Shelved
September 16, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
September 23, 2016 – Started Reading
September 24, 2016 –
page 105
September 27, 2016 –
page 198
53.51% "Still can't decide if this is a good school story or if all the effort has simply been expended on creating a Shakespearean pastiche."
March 7, 2017 – Finished Reading
May 22, 2017 – Shelved as: the-secret-history

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message 1: by S.M. (new)

S.M. Thanks for the well thought-out review.

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