Posts Tagged ‘A Midsummer Night’s Drean’

It’s surprising how coincidences happen sometimes.

I mean, it’s no surprise that there’s been a lot of crime and detective fiction in my reading list recently: it’s basically research! But there’s also been a lot of Shakespeare in it!

Ali Shaw’s The Trees isn’t – I don’t think – based on Shakespeare but there are resonances and echoes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream through it. The whisperers in their enigmatic and invisible presence stir memories of Puck and Robin Goodfellow, or perhaps the fairies, Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Mote and Mustardseed, tending on the creature on the throne as if they were an Oberon. And the trees’ own confusion of season recalled the lines

The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which.

And now, I’m listening to Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed, a modern revisiting of The Tempest for the Hogarth Shakespeare project, where Prospero has become Felix, the artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival usurped by his assistant following the deaths of his wife in childbirth and then his daughter Miranda.

And alongside that, I have picked up Ian McEwan’s Nutshell, thinking from the blurb that it was more of a murder mystery – until, that is, I read the prologue and kicked myself for not recognising perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most potent quotations

“I could be bounded in a nut shell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”

How could I not have recognised that?!

Here, Hamlet is indeed bounded in a nutshell: he is a (somewhat precocious) unborn foetus two weeks from birth listening to – and narrating – it requires a serious suspension of disbelief – his mother’s and uncle’s plans to murder his father. Just on a small note, what McEwan does with the names is delightful: Gertrude (a name which teenagers usually mocks) becomes quite beguiling as a Trudy; Claudius (which has classical connotation) is modernised to Claude which, phonologically, conjures up the image of a clod of earth, which fits delightfully with the scarily unimaginative and dull-witted would-be murderer.

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It’s that time of year again: the Carnegie Medal Shortlist is announced! Much joy! Genuine excitement! Much fretting over how to juggle reading the Shortlist with doing work, marking, planning … and, this year, entertaining the baby!

And Roof Toppers was a lovely way to start the Shortlist … Which I finished today by reading it out loud to the baby! Who says men can’t multitask?!

The story follows Sophie, a year-old baby orphaned in a ship wreck in the English Channel and rescued by an English gentleman and gentle man by the name of Charles Maxim. It is set in an undefined period but with perhaps a nineteenth century feel: the authorities disapprove of a man raising a female child and, as she hits puberty, try to take her into care. To escape, Charles and Sophie flee to France in order to find Sophie’s natural mother as – despite all the evidence to the contrary – Sophie is convinced survived the catastrophe.

Rundell has a lovely turn of phrase in the book: the prose has a musicality which is perhaps unsurprising when we realise that Sophie is saved inside a cello case in which is the first clue that sets her en route to Paris. It’s the sort of book where I find myself underlining phrases such as

he had kindness where other people had lungs, and politeness in his fingertips.

In fact, Charles is a jolly good role model for a parent: unconventional, eccentric, scholarly to the point of archaic, he brought Sophie up on a diet of imagination, Shakespeare and music with large helpings of ice cream!

In fact, there are echoes of Shakespeare through the book. The eponymous roof toppers are a group of youths who inhabit the aerial spaces above Paris: the roof tops of buildings and tree tops of the parks. They are not far removed from the fairies of A Midsummer Nights Dream and Sophie’s mother’s photograph is discovered from the doomed vessel in which she was disguised as a man. Sophie also makes a copy of Hamlet “slightly damp” whilst using it as a booster seat and

had a habit of breaking plates, and so they had been eating their cake off the front cover of A Midsummer Night’s Dream….

Sophie … waited until Charles was looking away, then dropped the book on the floor and did a handstand on it.

Charles laughed. ‘Bravo!’ He applauded against the table. ‘You look the stuff that elves are made of.’

So, overall, and endearing and lovely book which is unlikely to win because it’s too sweet