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Posted May 14, 2012
I love it when my reaction to a new novel catches me by surprise
I love it when my reaction to a new novel catches me by surprise -- and this one, frankly, knocked me over. How is it possible that reading story whose ending I know as well as Othello's kept me up all night reading because I wanted to know how it was going to turn out?
Oh, I already knew what was going to happen -- as, I suspect will most potential readers. Most of us know the basics, right? General Othello and the lovely Desdemona are in love, Iago convinces Othello to become madly jealous, and the stage quickly becomes littered with corpses. So I was not precisely expecting to be astonished by the story. So why was I, Iago the proverbial book I could not put down?
For a very simple reason: this retelling of Othello not only seduced me into liking the villain -- something I would not have thought possible -- but feeling by the tumultuous last quarter of the book that by having empathized with his increasingly warped sense of right and wrong, I had become enmeshed in his fate. Somehow, by not shouting no early enough to stop the inevitable, the story made me feel complicit in his plot.
That's right: the reader is the unindicted co-conspirator here. How refreshing to have a novel take the reader's involvement and intelligence so seriously -- and to repay it so well.
And to do it so subtly, thank goodness. At first, Iago seems merely sensitive and observant, a boy not born into a social class that would permit him the luxury of self-determination, but increasingly determined to set his own course despite a demanding father's demands (especially well-drawn) and a frivolous social order not given to recognizing real worth. He has to fight hard to remain honest, and it frequently costs him dearly.
So when he begins to feel just a bit resentful of others' advancement, who can blame him? Why shouldn't he gain the wife he wants, the promotion he craves, the spot at the exotic newly-minted general's side? Shown through Iago's eyes, his wants seem so reasonable, even moderate, and his opposition so privileged that we cannot help but cheer him on as he navigates the complex world of Venetian military and social politics.
By the time he starts to display enough sharp-edged jealousy to startle us, the reader is already implicated in what gradually emerges as a slow-acting, closely-observed madness from the point of view of the madman. Iago genuinely wants to believe he is doing the right thing as he continues to do more and more egregiously wrong ones.
The thing is, his justifications remain insidiously plausible, right up to the point when not even he can believe what he has done. But by then, as in all great tragedy, self-knowledge can no longer save him -- or anybody else. The die is cast.
An unexpected fringe benefit that friends of the Bard will love: this story is so steeped in the Shakespearean ethos that small hints of his other works seem to have been built into the very plaster of the ballrooms and steel of the swords. Here is an image plucked from a sonnet; there is descriptor reminiscent of Juliet. And could that possibly be a reference to Pericles, Prince of Tyre?
It is, in a word, fun -- not word I generally associate with tragedy. If I have a critique (other than having lost sleep to this story), it's that I would have liked to see both Desdemona's very genuine wit and Othello's descent into overwhelming paroxysms of jealousy in a bit more detail. Why was this great mind so easily overthrown?
But that's a minor quibble. As an established fan of Nicole Galland, naturally, I expected to be charmed by the writing, and I definitely was, but I have to say, I think this is her best book to date. She's a wonderful historical novelist, deft in her wit, incisive in presenting long-ago social dynamics, thorough in her research, and gifted at bringing a bygone era to life.
If only I didn’t feel so guilty for having tricked the Moor.
5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 22, 2012
I LOVED this book. This surprised me because I am not a huge Sh
I LOVED this book. This surprised me because I am not a huge Shakespeare fan. But that did not matter and nor does the fact that everyone knows that Shakespeare's tragedies end tragically. Until the end, the book is vivid and alive with compelling, richly developed characters (and the city of Venice is one of them) and scheming and intrigue and Venetian politics and romance and humor. If Nicole Galland gave this treatment to all of Shakespeare's works, I'd read every one.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 9, 2013
Wow! Couldn't put the book down. I had no idea what this was ab
Wow! Couldn't put the book down. I had no idea what this was about until I read the name Othello. I, however have never had the pleasure of reading or seeing the play. It is something I will pursue as soon as I read Ms. Galland's other books, if they are anywhere near as fascinating or wonderfully written as I, Iago then I know I am in for a wonderful experience. Ms. Galland, Thank You, Thank You and Thank you again for a riveting read!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 8, 2013
what a fun read!
this is the first book I have read by Galland, and now that I know what she is about, I've got to have more! Terrific storyteller and especially about characters we read in high school (Shakespeare) sometimes under duress! Highly recommend this wonderfully entertaining author.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 18, 2013
Posted October 15, 2012
you always hear that there are 2 sides to every story but how often do you get to hear the other side of the story? unlike with wicked, this doesn't really leave you with any sympathy for iago. you see him as less of a disgruntled social climber and more as a sociopath. i did like how the ladies seem a little less stupid than in shakespeare's version. great retelling.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.