Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson

Note: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair, honest review via Blogging for Books.

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Shylock is My Name: A Thoughtful Shakespeare Retelling

Author: Howard Jacobson

Rating: 3.5/5

One sentence summary: In a retelling of the Merchant of Venice, a conflicted modern-day Shylock (Simon Strulovitch) engages in conversation with his Shakespearean counterpart as the novel explores concerns of relationships and Jewish identity  as relevant today as it was in the sixteenth-century.

Review: Shylock is My Name follows the story of an art collector named Simon who finds himself facing a lot of similar problems to the Shakespearean character. His relationship with his daughter is, at best, rocky and at worst, dysfunctional. Although he cares for his wife deeply, he does not know how to connect with her following a traumatic incident that left her changed. He feels a little helpless in a world he doesn’t quite feel like he belongs in or understands, nor does he quite know how to process his Jewish identity.

He decides to visit his mother’s grave and, while doing so, runs into none other than Shylock. The two meet first as strangers, then as friends when they realize just how deeply they understand each other. Shylock follows Simon home and the two have deep, revealing conversations on relationships, Jewish identity, and family.

What I loved: I loved this book’s language. Jacobson’s word choice is beautiful and often poetic. He paints vivid mental imagery, each one giving the readers an insight into Simon and his very human emotions.

Although the premise of a modern-day Shylock meeting his fictional counterpart sounds a little strange, Shylock is My Name takes the idea and runs with it. Jacobson presents the mild absurdity of the situation as if it was ordinary and, in doing so, it becomes ordinary. As a reader, we are left focusing on the conversations than necessarily where Shylock came from and what he’s doing here.

What I didn’t love: Sometimes I felt like the language was a little too grandiose for my own liking. At times, vocabulary shifts felt unnatural and out-of-place among the rest of the prose. Though I don’t think this was the author’s intention, I felt like the prose was at times complex for the same of being complex rather than genuinely profound. This distracted me at times and took me out of the otherwise intriguing story.

Overall:  All-in-all, excellent contemporary adaptation of The Merchant of Venice. Despite a few language hang-ups, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to those who love a good contemporary Shakespeare adaption. After all, who doesn’t?


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