Friday, 1 December 2017

Macbeth - Jo Nesbo

Just the thought of a new Jo Nesbo had me salivating. In many ways the title passed me by, after all it’s a new Jo Nesbo!! But of course just the word ‘Macbeth’ offers numerous connotations and possibly preconceived notions not to mention a wealth of quotations whether you’ve read the play or not. 

I was moderately familiar with the play, certainly the bare bones of the plot and the characters but I’m more of a Hamlet girl myself! I’ve never seen it on stage but I’ve caught parts of TV interpretations over the years. 

Knowledge of the play certainly adds a dimension to the reading of this novel. You know, in a sense, what is going to happen so it is interesting to see how the author executes the events. I would think, though, that any reader completely ignorant of the play, the plot and the characters would enjoy this story regardless. It might even motivate them to seek out Shakespeare’s version. 

I try not to retain too many preconceptions when I read a book and I seldom allow a cover or a title to impact on me too much before I start. My expectations were high simply because it was Jo Nesbo. 

I would describe myself as a fan of Nesbo. I’ve read five of his previous books and I have another three just waiting for me on my TBR shelves. I had an expectation of the style expected and the type of plot, not to mention the characters. I was ignorant of this Hogarth Shakespeare series so I was half hoping to meet Harry Hole again. So I won’t lie, I did struggle to begin with. I started the book twice in fact because I was bewildered as the style seemed too heavy and clunky for Nesbo.

A digression, I realise, but I’m a tad confused by the series anyway. It boasts an impressive cast of authors who’ve given time and energy to retelling some of Shakespeare’s stories. But why? Without exception they are all writers of depth and imagination who surely have no shortage of ideas of their own. Perhaps for a writer it is a challenge not to be refused? Perhaps it is a little ‘light relief’?! For the plot, character and themes are already created, the writer ‘simply; has to render the story within a modern vernacular and a contemporary style. For the reader though it does provides a variety of potential experiences. If the reader is familiar with the writer but NOT with Shakespeare they will have a certain set of expectations. If the reader is familiar with the writer AND Shakespeare that offers a different set of expectations. And then there’s the Shakespearean diehards who may vehemently object to the exercise. And finally those who know nothing of either the writer or Shakespeare. It’s intriguing.

I think thoughts of all the above caused my initial struggle. But digression over and finding myself really getting into the novel I emerged from the last page having really enjoyed the book. Does Nesbo make the characters his own? Yes, without a doubt and I feel that’s vital for the  story to work otherwise it’s just basic story retelling. ‘Shakespeare retold for crime fans’. We are taken into this rather dark and depressing, faintly dystopian, Scottish landscape where drugs and corruption are endemic. It’s Nesbo so it has to be police/detective dominated which is a perfect cauldron for power struggles, the furthering of ambition and struggles with morality. Macbeth’s dichotomy; desiring power and advancement clashing with his intrinsic desire not to commit evil deeds is well sustained by Nesbo. But I think he sustains the original aspects all of the major characters including the wonderful Lady Macbeth. I was impressed throughout by this.

I guess the bare bones of the crime story is pure Nesbo, a little more wordy than usual but it’s a necessity if you are to suffuse the book with the essence of Shakespeare. Plenty of gritty action, much blood, a tight plot and a cast of thousands. Moral dilemmas a plenty. 

Plus a great big shout out to the translator Don Bartlett who has done a fabulous, seamless job. 

Is this ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ (Macbeth Act 5, Scene 5)?
No it is an exciting fiction told by a clever man, full of sound and fury but signifying much. 

Many thanks to Penguin Random House for the opportunity to read this book.

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