We’ve been following with interest the Hogarth Shakespeare series, in which modern writers write their own versions of famous Shakespeare plays, things like Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl (a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew), and Margaret Atwood’s Hag Seed (a retelling of The Tempest), like The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson (The WInter’s Tale), and Shylock Is My Name by Harold Jacobson (The Merchant of Venice). There’s something piquant about placing the basic plot or concept of a Shakespeare classic in a modern world context, and sometimes it can reveal a great deal about the author and the original play (I personally can’t wait until Jo Nesbo’s take on Macbeth comes out in 2018).
The latest addition to the series is a version of Othello as written by Tracy Chevalier, called New Boy. She takes the twisted story of jealousy and racism and deception from the original and sets it over the course of one day at a Washington, D.C. suburban middle school in the 1970’s. Sound intriguing?
Osei, known as O, is the 11 year old son of a diplomat and a veteran of many different schools. As the perpetual new kid, he knows what he has to do in order to fit in to a new place, and he’s lucky enough (he thinks) to win the affections of Dee, the golden girl at his new school on his first day there. However, Ian, another boy in the same class, is furious to see Dee give her affections to O, who’s not only new (and athletic) but also black, and sets out to destroy the relationship between Dee and O, no matter what the cost, to himself, to Dee, to O, to anyone. Is the outcome as terrible and mortal as in Othello? You’ll have to read to find out.