Writer: Jo Nesbø
House of Publication: Penguin Random House, Hogarth UK
Date of Publication: March 15th 2018
Ratings: 5 stars
‘’A seagull swept in over Fife through the silence and moonlight under a cloud-free night sky. Below, the river shone like silver. On the west of the river- like an immense fortress wall- a steep black mountain rose to the sky.’’
Without any prologue and lengthy introductions, I must tell you that this book is a masterpiece. It has the status of a classic, the making of a novel that will defy time. Nesbø took the masterpiece by William Shakespeare and elevated it to new heights. If you follow my reviews, you know that I have two obsessions: Wuthering Heights and Macbeth. I never thought I’d say that another writer would come to rival the greatness of the Scottish Play but there you have it. Sacrilege verified.
Nesbø sets the action in Scotland, during the 70’s and we are transported into the fickle, cruel world of casinos, the drug ‘’market’’ and the universe of high crime. Everything is masterfully crafted to reflect Shakespeare’s world. Macbeth is the head of the SWAT unit, Lady is the owner of a quality casino, Banquo is Macbeth’s mentor. The Norse Riders gang is the main rival and Hecate is the mob boss who appears to move the strings and direct the characters’ fate. See what Nesbø did there? I think you do and I tell you it is a marvelous stance. He shows how Fate arms Macbeth’s hand and the sequence of events is immediate. The consequences unavoidable and irreversible.
‘’The king of hearts and the queen of spades. That evening they met under an evil moon.’’
As in the original material, the finest scenes are the ones between Macbeth and Lady. Dare I say that their relationship in Nesbø’s retelling is even more fleshed out and poignant? Well, I do because it’s the truth. If you love this frighteningly alluring couple in the Bard’s play, you will fall head-over-heels for them in this novel. Macbeth is perfectly drawn. He’s slightly more malicious and ruthless than his Shakespearean counterpart but this is to be expected given the setting and the direction of the story. Because of Hecate’s brew, Macbeth’s visions start early and they are striking. The depiction of his guilt and the emotional toil of his actions, his steady descent into despair, his surrendering to his fate is a devastating process to read and knowing the outcome makes it even worse, it makes it even more powerful.
‘’I sleepwalk in the darkest night without hurting myself.’’
Lovely Lady…She is brilliant, as fascinating and dangerous as the Queen of Scotland. And do you know what I enjoyed the most? The fact that in Nesbø’s version, Lady is a powerful woman who has come into her own without taking orders and sh…from men. She is more experienced, more intelligent than Macbeth. Their relationship is balanced and loving yet, she doesn’t need him to define her as a person. She is not ‘’his’’ queen, she is a woman who has forged herself through fire and steel and takes responsibility of her own choices. And in this version, she is granted a number of redeeming qualities that are absolutely absent in the original play.
‘’Sleep no more. Macbeth is murdering sleep.’’
I cannot say much because spoilers are lurking. Even though we all know the original story, Nesbø has created quite a few twists and turns that forbid me to say much. It’s a joy to be able to recognize the exact scenes from the Bard’s play, the monologues and the famous quotes within the context of Nesbø’s story, to pinpoint the parallel lines between the two works. The bleak atmosphere of Scotland, the fact that most of the action takes place during the night, the frenetic 70’s vibe mirror the spirit of Macbeth to perfection. I didn’t expect such a successful adaptation of Shakespeare’s quotes into contemporary language without sacrificing their beauty, their impact, their significance. So major congratulations to Don Bartlett for the translation from the original Norwegian. The interactions are as solemn and as natural as they can be and the prose is rich in a distinct, dark Nordic beauty.
Naturally, I knew of Nesbø but I’ve never read any of his novels. I didn’t let my expectations rise too much prior to reading this but to say that I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement. Nesbø took the Nordic heritage and the dark Scottish setting and remained faithful to the original source. Without presuming to be equal to the Bard, full of respect and obviously aware of the tremendous responsibility, he created a work that would make William Shakespeare proud. So, read it, dearest friends. This is the best retelling of Shakespeare’s work that we will ever come to know in our time…
‘’I owe it hell on earth.’’
Many thanks to Penguin Random House, Hogarth UK and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange of an honest review,