by Margaret Atwood

Wow. I could have given this post the title “My favourite Canadian”, so entranced am I by Atwood’s writing. Not a word out of place, not a superfluous phrase.

This is the third book in the Hogarth Shakespeare series that I have read, or – as in the case of Jacobson’s My Name is Shylock – attempted to read. I came to it through another book blog, on which various people claimed it was the best of he bunch (so far). So I determined to give it a try.


The story is that of The Tempest. This is not a play I know well, but the author helpfully summarises the plot at the end of the book. Even without this summary, you feel you know the story well by the time you finish this novel. Why? Well, at least in part because the story is played out twice, in some detail, in the course of the novel.

Felix’s own exile echoes that of Prospero with his (in Felix’s case dead and imagined) daughter Miranda. The friends who send him there are every bit as evil and scheming as Antonio and Alonso. Felix’s plan to trick them into submission relies on the present-day ‘magic’ of electronic technology. And aside from this, there is a play within the play, as Felix stages, in the prison, the production which allows him his revenge.

The plot is ingenious and yet somehow believable. Even Ariel and the goddesses have a role in the prison production that seems entirely right and, if contrived, then contrived by Felix and not by the story’s author.

Atwood’s writing just gets better and better. This is the best thing I’ve read in months: for plot, characterisation, language and sheer chutzpah.


My Name is Shylock

by Howard Jacobson

This is the second of Jacobson’s books that I have tried to read but failed to complete.  He is an excellent writer, very observant and with clever and often surprising turns of phrase.  But this book, like the previous one (The Finkler Question) just left me cold.  I can’t engage with the characters, even to laugh at them.  The main story, if there is one, seems to revolve around middle-aged Jewish men reflecting on what it’s like to be a middle-aged Jewish man.  The previous book left me with exactly the same impression.

I’m just not interested enough in these musings to want to persevere with either book.  It’s going back to the library. Sorry!