Monday, March 10, 2014

Othello by C.E. Wilson

This version of Othello is a re-telling set in a high school. Since Othello is one of the books that I didn't study (Confession time, I've only studied Merchant of Venice, King Lear and Julius Caesar. At least, these are the three that I feel fairly confident about), I can't really make any comments on whether this is a faithful re-interpretation. So, I'll just judge the book on its own merits and throw in a few "I wonder if Shakespeare did this too" thoughts now and then.

Orion (Othello) is dating Devony (Desmonda), the mayor's daughter. After six months of sneaking around, they're finally publicly a couple (Ok, so they were outed by 'friends', but same effect). Unfortunately for Devony, Archer (Iago) hates Orion for not making him Vice-President of the student council and so is plotting and manipulating everyone to get his revenge. Even more unfortunately, Archer succeeds and a lot of people die (that cannot be a spoiler, the entire plot of Othello is on Wikipedia after all).

Just now, I wrote "Unfortunately for Devony" and no, I did not leave out Orion by mistake. The character I felt the most sympathy for was Devony and she basically only has a victim role. She never does anything to anyone and she's just collateral damage.

There is where, I feel, the book falls short. The characters are all very one-sided. Now, from what I can see, Shakespeare is supposed to have portrayed Othello very progressively for this day, but unfortunately, like the portrayal of Sherlock, these are characters that cannot triumph. The author was probably working with limitations like these (not to mention plot constraints) so we have: Archer - Evil genius who can manipulate almost anyone and yet somehow didn't win the election; Orion - way too gullible for his own good and with a terrible temper and too obsessive about Devony; Devony- Basically good; and so on.

I think the most wasted part is the portrayal of Orion. Like I said, Shakespeare is supposed to have been progressive, but Orion here is just a one-sided figure. He's almost unlikable. As unlikable as Archer even. He does not listen to reason or anyone except Devony. And since he goes from all-round good guy to crazy murderer in what feels like overnight (but is supposed to be just a few short weeks), the transition felt a bit unnatural. Shakespeare had his audience, who probably believed all that about Othello from the start, but I have problems believing that Orion is that base.

Where this book does shine, however, is in its readability. The book is easy to read and hard to put down. Even though the plot was already decided in advance, if the prose was clunky, I would still have had a hard time reading it.

To end, I'll just note that Othello was originally a play. That alone means it's visual and auditory, while a book is expected to be deeper, to reveal more (hard to do unless characters constantly break into monologue, and even that can feel unconvincing). So I suppose the limitations of the play has somehow affected the book itself. I did find it an interesting read, and more importantly, it piqued my interest in the original play.

Disclaimer: I got this book as part of Oops! I Read a Book Again blog tours in exchange for a free and honest review.

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