Review: Shylock is My Name – Howard Jacobson

3.5 of 5 stars
Published 2016

This is another in the Hogarth Shakespeare project, updating and retelling various of the classic plays into the modern age, turning them on their collective ear in some cases. Shylock is My Name is based on The Merchant of Venice. In this case, though, it really isn’t a “retelling” but a “turn on it’s ear”.

One “blurb” about the book, found on Goodreads says “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”. That last bit about the “spiritual kinship with its antecedent”. Right there, that’s more like what I would say this is. It’s got parallels to the original play, with some similar characters and situations but the overall story isn’t the same. I want to say “fusion” but fusion with what? Modern day Jewish identity maybe juxtaposed with the medieval Jewish identity as presented by Shylock himself from the play. Is Shylock the traditional side of the personality of the main character or is he real? It’s left up to you to decide.Other characters seem to see him and interact with him but that could still be the “dark” side of the main character of  Strulovitch.

If you stop expecting a “retelling” of the story of Merchant, you will likely enjoy this book. I read another review that comments on the book taking on the themes  of the play rather than the storyline and that’s closer to the truth as well. Themes of the Jewish identity, family, fathers and daughters are all here. The language in the prose is complicated at times, and I had to stop a lot to look up the meaning of one of the many $64,000 words, overused, I would say but in keeping with the tone of the book as well.Once I settled into it, I enjoyed it. 3.5 stars, but could round up to a 4.



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