7

Updating Othello

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

I am not familiar with Shakespeare’s Othello (we didn’t cover it in school, never really enjoyed reading plays and I know it’s Shakespeare but here we are) but I will always love Tracy Chevalier’s The Girl with a Pearl Earring SO given the chance to read New Boy

New Boy is part of a project from Hogarth that updates Shakespeare’s plays, giving them modern contexts from acclaimed and bestselling novelists of today.

(Honestly, I had no idea this was a thing and just looked at the site and want to immediately read at least 4 of the others)

new boy

In this iteration of Othello, Osei Kokote, or “O” as he lets people call him, is the new boy at a D.C. school in the 1970s. Osei is the son of a diplomat and has gone to four school in six years – he is an expert at being the new boy. He’s also the only Black child. Golden child Dee is given the job of showing Osei around. She’s pretty, popular and White. Osei and Dee strike up a friendship that blooms into a romance within minutes – this is the sixth grade after all.

Ian is used to getting his way and has been ruling the playground for the entire year. He gets the best spot on the playground, picks teams for kickball, demands lunch money or goods and generally bullies those he sees as less-than. When he sees Osei getting along so easily with Dee, he decides that he’s going to make life extremely difficult for the new boy.

I got the rundown of Othello from my mom, one of those instances where your parents surprise you by how much they know (love you, Mom!). And from what I understand, this book is pretty true to the major themes of its source material. Ian manages to trick Osei into thinking that Dee is two-timing him, that she’s bringing strawberries in for another boy, the most popular boy on the playground, a natural partner for the golden girl. Osei thinks that Dee is just like everyone else, that she was interested in the novelty of his brown skin but doesn’t actually see him.

In the end, the supporting players take the brunt of Ian’s malice in the most tragic of ways.

I thought it was brilliant of Chevalier to set the tragedy of Othello on a playground. I felt intense nostalgia for the politics and hierarchies of the playground, how you feel like such a big deal when you’re the oldest kids there. And how the littlest things, someone stealing a pencil case, can ripple out through the entire school.

I appreciated that not all of the action took place on the playground or in the school. Chevalier gives voice to Osei’s experiences at his other schools in New York City, London and Rome, what it’s like in his birth nation of Ghana, what life is like at home with his older sister who is learning to embrace her identity as a Black woman surrounded by so many White ones.

Osei’s anger and distrust builds throughout the novel, encouraged by the antics of Ian, the naiveté of Dee, and the discrimination from some of the teachers until the final horrifying moments of this little book.

New Boy makes Othello accessible for plebs like me. From what I can tell, it honours the spirit of the original while creating a story that has enough to say on its own.

14

Everyone Else is Reading It: The Goldfinch

Normally it’s my personal book policy not to start the year off with a hefty read. I’ve found that I get distracted by how long it’s taking me and start to think about how this will likely affect my year end book reading total. A couple of years ago it took me three weeks (three weeks!) to get through George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda at the beginning of the year and ended up one book short of my 65 book goal.

I know – I need to get out more.

But everyone kept talking about Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and I started to feel really left out so I read it. All 771 pages of it.

If you want a proper review of this book, you should probably just click here  because this is a better review than I could ever possibly hope to write.

But if you’re after some general thoughts and feelings and observations about one of the most reviewed and talked about books in recent memory, then read on.

The+Goldfinch

OK fine, a bare bones summary for those of you that aren’t clicking the link (but you’re missing out): Theo Decker’s mom dies suddenly and he’s left in the care of a succession of guardians: his friend Andy’s family in a fancy Manhattan apartment, his alcoholic gambler father and his cocktail waitress girlfriend in Las Vegas and finally James Hobart, an antique dealer back in New York. We follow Theo’s story from the death of his mother, bouncing around these different homes, struggling with drinking and addiction, with one very special object in his possession: Carel Fabritius’ The Goldfinch.

First, as pointed out by the lovely and always right Jennine,  this book is physically beautiful. The pages are super creamy and soft, the cover so perfectly captures the crux of the story and the reproduction of The Goldfinch painting on the inside? Flawless.

Do you remember several years ago when Tracy Chevalier wrote The Girl With A Pearl Earring and everyone lost their minds over it and suddenly that painting was uber famous? I feel like something similar might be happening with the Fabritius painting, The Goldfinch (coincidentally housed in the same museum, the Mauritshuis in the Hague – if you haven’t already, go there!). People have definitely seen the painting before but I think it’s one of those ones that used to fade into the background after you walked away. Now, I think people will search it out.

This book was a commitment. And sometimes I wasn’t sure that I was getting anything out of it. Because it’s such a long book, Tartt has the luxury of really spending time spinning out the tale. For a while it felt like the real story was taking a while to get started. And there are sections where Theo is talking about how he got to where he is, his thoughts, feelings, sensations etc., and it feels kind of self-indulgent. At the same time, why wouldn’t it be – that’s the way Theo has learned to be.

I will say that it did all wrap up very neatly. If you’re hankering after a story with a proper resolution, this is it. The time spent getting there will for sure have been worth it. You will have all that time to marvel at Tartt’s skill at weaving such a complex story with so many genuine characters. One thing that struck me most about her skill was her ability to describe movement, or fighting. Usually in those scenes, I tend to pick out the most important action but overall, I have trouble following the action. With Tartt masterfully creating the scene, I was able to follow every move.

In the end, the beauty of the book and the splendour of the writing, reminded me that a world without beauty is pointless. We are attracted to these stories because they remind us that although life is completely flawed, it’s a beautiful thing all the same.