Shylock Is My Name by Howard Jacobson

As an English major graduate, I think I know a little more Shakespeare than, say, a Biology major. But even in my English classes, where students read obscure Balzac books or overjoyed talking about Tolstoy’s War & Peace, a lot of my peers hated the bard. Even a handful of my professors found him overrated, opting instead for more Marlowe.

I adore Shakespeare. I think he’s a genius & untouchable, & as much as I dreaded being required to read “Hamlet” for the fourth time instead of maybe “King Lear” for a class just once?, I still got excited for Act 3, Scene 1.

So imagine my happiness when I found out Hogarth Press is publishing this Hogarth Shakespeare collection! Modern day tellings & reimagined versions of classic Shakespeare plays.

Then I find out that they’re being released on NetGalley! Having missed the boat on The Gap of Time, I made sure to put in a request for Shylock Is My Name, the basis of which is “The Merchant of Venice,” which is critiqued for being anti-Semitic.

Simon Strulovitch, an art dealer in a provincial British town, finds a friend named Shylock in a cemetery. Shylock is talking to his buried wife Leah. In The Merchant of Venice” one of the only moments where we see Shylock as more sympathetic is when his daughter betrays him by selling the ring his wife Leah gave him. Strulovitch becomes the modern version of Shylock, while Jacobson’s Shylock is more of Strulovitch’s conscience. Strulovitch’s relationship with his own daughter, Beatrice, is the most interesting part of this novel. Jacobson is also able to give Shylock a true monologue of possible redemption since in Shakespeare’s play he fades out without so much as a goodbye.

The majority of the story’s conflict is centered around religion. Beatrice, Simon’s daughter, is dating a Christian. I’m not Jewish, so a lot of the material resonated in more of a challenge of identity sense rather than being able to see the overlap in my own life. However, the ending was incredibly frustrating. For spoiler reasons I’ll leave it out.

Also, The book drifts away from Strulovitch & Shylock at times & frankly, I didn’t care much about anyone but them.

Overall, sentence by sentence, this is some high caliber writing. It was thought provoking & strikes great emotional reactions from the reader. Simon’s first wife for example, was one of the more interesting & aggravating characters. (Her name was Ophelia-Jane, so maybe she was too Hamlet for him). But I think I’d prefer The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson, or even Hogarth’s next book, Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler, over this one.

Which books in this collection most appeal to you? Has anybody read The Gap of Time? Let me know what you thought!

5 thoughts on “Shylock Is My Name by Howard Jacobson

  1. Wait- what?- your professors thought Shakespeare was overrated??? They preferred Marlowe? That’s insane!!! I mean, nobody captures life in the same way as Shakespeare. I mean, Marlowe can be beautiful, but Shakespeare is beautiful *and* has so much heart *and* has incredible characterisation (I could go on forever) (Sorry for the rant, I also studied English Lit at Uni and I cannot fathom how an English lit professor could think that!)
    I’ve not heard of this collection- but it sounds really cool. And I’m reading a Howard jacobson novel by sheer coincidence right now as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Here’s an English major confession: I’ve never read The Merchant of Venice and had no idea that it was critiqued as anti-Semitic. I’m looking forward to reading Jacobson’s version of the story though — perhaps I’ll go back and read the play once I’m done. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely do that! In fact some of the stuff in the book only really has value of you know a little about the play. & yeah :/ it’s been argued for being both anti-Semitic & not, but either way it’s still a good play.


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