New Boy: Tracy Chevalier

★★★

Hogarth Shakespeares are like buses, aren’t they? I haven’t picked one up for years and now there are two at once. Following on from the quirky, inoffensive Vinegar Girl (retelling The Taming of the Shrew) is New Boy, Tracey Chevalier’s reworking of Othello. I’m a great admirer of Chevalier and her concept is clever – to set the story among the ever-changing alliances and rivalries of an elementary-school playground. Certainly, this setting gives plausibility to the lightening-swift shifts of Shakespeare’s characters, but I just couldn’t shake off a certain… uneasiness. Such a story, which hinges so heavily on sexual jealousy and very adult violence, doesn’t sit comfortably in such a place. On one hand, we risk the complexities of the story being lost; on the other, we see children behaving in a way which feels too mature for eleven-year-olds. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting – and disturbing – experiment.

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