There seems to be a run of Shakespearean adaptations in fiction of late. In addition to this one, I recently reviewed 'Iago' by David Snodden, and 'I, Iag'o by Nicole Galland. 'Macbeth: A Novel' is the collaborative creation of British crime writer A. J. Hartley and David Hewson, a professor of Shakespeare who writes thrillers in his spare time. Although I'm not a reader of either genre, I am a Shakespearean and know the play very well. I wasn't quite sure what to expect of 'Macbeth: A Novel'; after all, no one can improve upon Shakespeare, and many of the adaptations I've read are either laughable or maddening. So I was pleasantly surprised and even enjoyed this one--perhaps particularly because I listened to the audiobook, wonderfully read by Alan Cumming, who for once was free to revel in his glorious Scottish accent.
Hewson and Hartley stick pretty closely to the bare bones of the plot that we are all familiar with, but they take free reign in filling in the "offstage" details. For example, the first third of the book puts readers right in the middle of the civil rebellion and Norse invasion that have been going on as the play opens. We see Macbeth and Banquo fighting in the field; we see Macbeth's capture of the rebel Macdonwald, the blow-by-blow fight to his bloody death preceded by a verbal exchange that prefigures Macbeth's own treacherous acts. Shakespeare, on the contrary, perfunctorily has messengers deliver the news of Macbeth's victories to King Duncan. Back on the home front, the authors give Lady Macbeth a name of her own (Skena). They provide an answer to the oft-asked question, "Where are Lady Macbeth's children?" And they give us plenty of chat between the couple that helps us to understand the powerful forces between them. Interior flashbacks also flesh out the Macbeths' individual biographies, and frequently we're made privy as to what is going on in their minds. Hewson and Hartley imaginatively--but not fantastically--fill in the blanks: why exactly Macbeth turns on Banquo, what happens to Fleance after his father's murder, who the weird sisters are and how they came to be witches, what daily life is like at Macduff's castle before the assassins arrive, and more.
I won't be recommending this book as a classic, or even a must-read. The style is probably better suited to crime novels and thriller: a bit too 'colorful' and 'overwrought,' shall we say, for my taste. Yet it fits just fine with the story of Macbeth. This was a fun piece to breeze through at the end of the semester, which is always a stressful time for me. If the idea of a thriller-crime novel version of Macbeth, read in a charming and authentic Scottish accent by a fine actor, appeals to you, I say, go for it!
What an amazing book! The authors of this really transformed a Shakespearean play into a fascinating, accessible historical novel. The performance is extraordinary. The authors use lyrical prose that flows naturally, as opposed to a rigid adherence to awkward Shakespearean dialogue.
It's just a really great historical novel. I listened in one sitting!
I had read much of Shakespeare's work, but somehow I never read Macbeth. So it's a double treat for me!
I hope to see more from this writing team!
This is without a doubt the best way to introduce Shakesper - I've read seen just about every interpretation of Macbetha dn this is by far the best. Makes it come alive, somehow even makes it relevant to today.
A great novelized version of Macbeth. As the author notes in the afterward, this version is just that -- a novelized version. Well worth listening to, the reader's voices and cadence are right on.
I've read the Shakespeare original (and liked it), but this version breathes a whole new life into the characters. Everyone has a history and secret desires and fears, so their tragedies become much more poignant. lady macbeth was particularly transformed in my mind, and the weird sisters were much more sinister. the narration was fantastic, and exactly right for the task.
This is great! The narrator has a beautiful accent that perfectly fits the characters yet is easily understandable. It's Macbeth in modern English so there's not all that Elizabethan English to plod through that normally detracts from being able to understand the plot. Not historically accurate, one must remember that Shakespeare was writing to please Queen Elizabeth I so his plays were designed to degrade Elizabeth's enemies which would include the Plantagenets and the Scots. With this in mind, this is a beautiful listen. The lilting prose practically becoming poetry in the process.
Love having someone read me a story. Fires in the hearth, rain on the roof, sunny days and surf. Good friends, good food and J S Bach.
Great concept delivered by Hartley and Hewson. And it really works so well. Macbeth simply comes alive. The reading is just perfect. The land, the personalities, the ' history' unfolding are all full of life, that it is almost like a hologram where the whole story is being enacted in my living room.
Over the years I've tried several times to get into Shakespeare's version of this most interesting tale. I just couldn't do it. (Sorry Professor Hartley, I was an economics major.) This book is well written and superbly narrated. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Love to read. Mysteries, history, romance, biography, current events, science, classic fiction. No vampires. No zombies. No self-help. Find me on GoodReads and BookLikes.
You always remember your first--and way back in 5th grade, Macbeth was my first venture into Shakespeare. Miss Weil loved Shakespeare and she introduced her class to the magic. Macbeth--in iambic pentameter-- was our 5th grade play. It is still my favorite Shakespeare. That said, I was just not sure how I would react to a novelization of the story.
Surprisingly, I stuck it out to the end-- and surprisingly, I didn't hate it. I didn't love it entirely either but that was because there were places where I just didn't agree with Hartley and Hewson's interpretation of events and motivations. However, I learned a lot about the historical background of the play and perhaps got a better idea of what life was like in those times. In short, it gave me a better understanding of the play.
Nonetheless, the novel stands on its own; its a good read. You don't need to know Shakespeare's play to get through the story. You don't have to be a Lit. major to enjoy it. In fact, you might even be better off not arriving with so much baggage.
Finally, kudos to the narrator Alan Cummings--and to the person who chose him. The book may have been written in prose but it read like poetry. Not since I heard Lisette Lescat read the 'No.1 Ladies' Detective' series have I heard such a perfect pairing of material and reader.
I had a visceral reaction to this work. Alan Cummings brings the listener into the action. And that action is horrible and human and sad. The dismay of Lady Macbeth at the consequences of her actions and the evilness of Fergus stood out to me. Highly recommended.