Shylock is my Name – Howard Jacobson

Shylock is my name by Howard Jacobson is the second publication in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, and the first book I have read by the author. As the title suggests, it is a retelling of The Merchant of Venice.

Jacobson moves the setting to Cheshire, but he does more than simply move the location. He uses an original character, Simon Strulovitch, whose circumstances with his daughter Beatrice echo those of Shylock and Jessica in the play. Strulovitch meets Shylock in a graveyard, and after striking  up a friendship they question each other about their ‘Jewishness’. The other characters from the play, Plurabelle as Portia and D’Anton as Antonio, are written as caricatures, and the pound of flesh that is claimed becomes a circumcised foreskin.

I wanted to enjoy this novel as it’s a play I know very well having studied it for GCSE and seen it a few times in the theatre, but I just couldn’t get into the writing style at all. As I mentioned it is the first novel I have read by Jacobson, so I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m unfamiliar with his style of writing or whether it was just the style of this book. I’m also unsure whether having a good knowledge of the play helped or hindered as I was reading as I kept trying to draw parallels and this possibly wasn’t a good thing.

 

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