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Non 1001 Book Review: Shylock is my Name Howard Jacobson

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After a run of Man Booker features we are slowly returning to our regular schedule. Book Worm read this book a while ago and has been waiting for me to get to it too. I have yet to crack open the book so rather than prolonging the process, we decided to go ahead and post her review. Here’s what she thought.

Shylock is my Name by Howard Jacobson
Published in: 2016
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: ★★★
Find it here: Shylock is my name

Synopsis from Goodreads: Man Booker Prize-winner Howard Jacobson brings his singular brilliance to this modern re-imagining of one of Shakespeare’s most unforgettable characters: Shylock

Winter, a cemetery, Shylock. In this provocative and profound interpretation of “The Merchant of Venice,” Shylock is juxtaposed against his present-day counterpart in the character of art dealer and conflicted father Simon Strulovitch. With characteristic irony, Jacobson presents Shylock as a man of incisive wit and passion, concerned still with questions of identity, parenthood, anti-Semitism and revenge. While Strulovich struggles to reconcile himself to his daughter Beatrice’s “betrayal” of her family and heritage – as she is carried away by the excitement of Manchester high society, and into the arms of a footballer notorious for giving a Nazi salute on the field – Shylock alternates grief for his beloved wife with rage against his own daughter’s rejection of her Jewish upbringing. Culminating in a shocking twist on Shylock’s demand for the infamous pound of flesh, Jacobson’s insightful retelling examines contemporary, acutely relevant questions of Jewish identity while maintaining a poignant sympathy for its characters and a genuine spiritual kinship with its antecedent—a drama which Jacobson himself considers to be “the most troubling of Shakespeare’s plays for anyone, but, for an English novelist who happens to be Jewish, also the most challenging.”

Book Worm’s Thoughts: I am ambivalent towards this book. I spent a lot of time thinking would this make more sense if I had actually read The Merchant of Venice. Unlike The Gap of Time this is not a modernized retelling of the Shakespeare play. Instead it is a continuation of the play as we speculate about what happens after Shylock fails to receive his pound of flesh.

From what I can gather the central theme of The Merchant of Venice has stayed intact. There is a Jew who makes a bargain with a Christian which is reneged on, leading to the Jew’s public embarrassment. However, that Jewish man is not Shylock. Shylock has remained away from centre stage while directing the action. There is also the conflict between fathers and daughters suffered by both Shylock and his fellow Jew.

I found the beginning of the book confusing, however as it progressed I began to understand and enjoy it more. What did take away from my enjoyment was the anti-Jewish sentiments expressed by some of the characters. I do understand that these sentiments are central to the story but that doesn’t mean I have to like them.

What I did like about the book was Shylock’s interaction with his dead wife Leah. Although no longer physically here, spiritually she is beside Shylock trying to guide and comfort him. I also liked Shylock’s role as manipulator and conspirator.

This book is very well written I just never really warmed to it.

Who would like this book: I would say anyone like me who is reading the Shakespeare retold series and anyone who enjoyed The Merchant of Venice and wants a new perspective on it.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: Shylock is my name.

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. I read this for the March Madness Challenge and felt pretty much the same as you, BW.

    Like

    September 15, 2016
  2. Tracy S #

    I do want to read this- and I will be rereading Merchant of Venice first. Thanks for the tip!

    Like

    September 16, 2016
  3. I’ve not read Jacobson before but recently started his novel The FinklermQuestion which a lot of people said they didn’t like but I am finding quite funny.

    Like

    September 16, 2016

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