Book Review - Shylock is My Name

THIS is one of a series of retellings of William Shakespeare’s plays, in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of his death.

Based upon his legendary Merchant of Venice, the book’s plot follows a British Jew and art dealer named Simon Strulovich, in the throes of a mid-life crisis, who meets with the titular Shylock in a cemetary, as the latter is mourning over the grave of his late wife, Leah.

The two strike up a friendship, united in their mutual frustrations over their daughters.

Strulovich’s teenage Beatrice is dating a famous, non-Jew footballer and is living among Manchester high society, while Shylock’s free-spirited Jessica has completely rejected her Jewish upbringing, and sold her mother’s ring in order to buy a monkey.

Under Shylock’s influence, Strulovich begins to feel resentment against the other people in his life who he feels have wronged him.

These include a rival art dealer named D’Anton, a flighty-yet-ambitious heiress named Plurabelle, even his daughter’s footballer boyfriend Gratan.

This leads him to plot their downfalls, setting off certain events that lead to that infamous moment where ‘a pound of flesh’ is requested, although with unexpected results.

While I vaguely remember Shakespeare’s play, the plot doesn’t directly follow it.

Instead, it weaves its own rich story of rage, revenge, and reflections on the issues of religion and identity.

There are some key differences from the play, but to reveal any more would definitely be considered spoilers.

The plot takes a while to get going, as author Howard Jacobson focuses on building the world and the characters, especially Shylock and Strulovich.

The slow burn is all worth it by the end, however, as you find yourself in turn empathising with characters traditionally thought to be villains, and seeing the grey areas in people normally considered heroes.

The best thing about the book is the language.

Jacobson has a knack for describing characters and situations using beautiful analogies, and the book is a lot funnier than I thought it would be, more in line with a dark comedy than a drama.

This is highly recommended for lovers of language and Shakespeare’s works.