Rebecca Reisert's debut novel is a richly imagined, mesmerizing tale that revisits Shakespeare's story of Macbeth through the eyes of a fiercely independent and mysterious young woman, one of the three "witches" who foretell Macbeth's ascendance to the Scottish throne. Through young Gilly's eyes, we witness Macbeth's rapacious hunger for power and paranoic madness -- even as Gilly relentlessly pursues her own mad quest for vengeance.
For her first novel, high school teacher Reisert gives herself a tough assignment: rewriting Macbeth from the perspective of one of the three witches, here a feisty teenager named Gillyflower, or Gilly. It's an audacious approach that occasionally yields fresh insights, but more often strips bare the chilling allure of the play. The story is that Gilly, having served seven years in Birnam Wood with the witches Nettle and Mad Helga, is ready to seek revenge against Macbeth, who slaughtered her family. Disguised as a cheeky lad, she lands a job in Macbeth's kitchen and then cases the castle, once even climbing up Macbeth's private latrine shaft to eavesdrop on the conniving spouses. But there are distractions, such as her growing attachment to the orphan boy Pod, a young "moonling" she rescues in the woods. And various characters from the play keep implausibly demanding her friendship, including Banquo's son Fleance, and King Duncan's son Prince Malcolm ("Kitchen lad... Without your aid I fear I will perish in earnest"). Soon Gilly has more than Zelig-like ubiquity in the castle: she becomes the prime mover, implicated in everything from the Macduff family's slaughter to the appearance of Banquo's ghost. Reisert even uses Gilly to justify the Macbeths' marriage, as if their intimacy needed explanation. The supple language distantly evokes the poetry of the original ("I am a gapeseed, a strutting hobbledee horse, full of fury and threats but able to do nothing but playact"), yet what's best here is the fetid atmosphere, and the intriguing exploration of the place of women in macho Scotland. But Reisert overdoes the latter, concocting a cheery ending better suited to a politically correctfairy tale than to a female-centric Macbeth. 5-city author tour. (Oct.) Forecast: Fans of Rosalind Miles's Guenevere trilogy will appreciate this title. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Reisert's first novel is a satisfying coming-of-age account of loss and loneliness and of revenge and its consequences. It tells the story of the young foundling named Gilly living in Birnam Wood with Nettle and Helga, who take her in after Macbeth's deeds leave her homeless. Though she is considered a witch, Gilly is also just a young woman driven by ordinary but powerful emotions. Her goal is Macbeth's destruction, and the action relates closely to Shakespeare's play, offering considerable tension and suspense for those who know that story. Reisert, a playwright who has also directed four productions of Macbeth, offers an intimate look at life in an 11th-century castle from the servant's point of view, portraying a period in history that is somewhat neglected in fiction. Though Gilly's journeys in pursuit of her goal put her in unlikely circumstances, she is believable as a strong, dynamic, and sympathetic heroine who struggles with her emotions and personal identity. Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this novel; recommended for all public libraries. Jean Langlais, St. Charles P.L., IL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
The story of Macbeth's downfall told from the point of view of the title character, a young girl out to avenge her father's murder. Since early childhood, Gilly has lived in Birnam Wood with Nettle and Mad Helga, who scrounge out a livelihood concocting herbal remedies and scavenging among the battlefield dead. Adolescent Gilly fancies herself "an arrow of vengeance" aimed at Macbeth, whom she blames for the destruction of her original family. She nags the kindly old women until finally Helga promises she will help bring down Macbeth if Gilly can bring her three pieces of his heart. Full of self-importance and hate, Gilly sets out. She pretends to be a boy to get work into the kitchen of Macbeth's castle and plot his destruction. She also befriends Banquo's studious son Fleance and good King Duncan's handsome son Malcolm. Sneaking into the couple's chamber, she overhears a conversation between Macbeth and his wife, who the reader will not be surprised to learn is Gilly's mother. Realizing the "three pieces" of Macbeth's heart are his loyalty to the king, his love of his wife, and his longing to be king himself, Gilly returns to Birnam Wood and goads Nettle and Helga into a meeting with Macbeth in which they will pretend to foresee his future. Back at the castle, she witnesses Duncan's death and helps Malcolm get away, then unsuccessfully tries to save Banquo and manages to rescue Fleance. Her sense of responsibility for these deaths and that of Lady Macduff, who showed her great affection, gnaws at Gilly's conscience, but she steels herself against emotion. Finally, Macbeth comes to ruin, and Lady Macbeth in her madness shares with Gilly her version of their family tragedy. To playwrightReisert's credit, the parallels between the avenging lass and her enemies are not lost on Gilly any more than on the reader. A witty and thought-provoking debut, with an imperfect though endearing heroine whose flaws are not tragic but very human. Author tour
Betsy Tobin Author of Bone House A gripping tale of revenge and betrayal that yokes the reader from the early pages.
The Birmingham Post (U.K.) One of the most original first novels you're likely to find.
Publishers Weekly Audacious....The supple language distantly evokes the poetry of the original.ŠWhat's best here is the fetid atmosphere, and the intriguing exploration of the place of women in macho Scotland.