Wednesday, March 3, 2010

looking sideways at shakespeare

Niki Bruce reviews Banquo's Son, a new take on the popular tale of Macbeth.

JUST about everyone who reads English has read Shakespeare's Macbeth. Whether in high school or college or university, or simply because you enjoy the Bard's works, Macbeth is one of his most read plays.

Taking just one line from the story – when Banquo and Fleance are ambushed, Banquo holds the assailants off and cries out: "Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly! / Thou mayst revenge" – TK (Tania) Roxborogh has created the plot of her novel, Banquo's Son.

In most interpretations of Shakespeare's story, Fleance is an adult and, like his father, a captain in Macbeth's guard. It is Macbeth's fear that Banquo will somehow sire a line of kings for Scotland that leads to his death and the attempt to kill his son. However, Fleance escapes.

Roxborogh's story has Fleance as a child, escaping from the ambush on the back of his father's horse and carrying his father's sword. Fleance eventually comes upon a childless couple – Magness and Miri – who take him in and raise him as their own in England.

Fleance is 21-years-old at the beginning of Banquo's Son, and ready to fall in love, get married and settle down. He knows who he is, yet having no knowledge of current politics is scared to head back to Scotland, either to claim his heritage as a cousin to the King or renew old acquaintances.

However, Fleance is haunted by a ghostly figure and the words of his father – to seek revenge for his death. And when his beloved's father tries to push him into marriage, Fleance realises he must head back to the land of his birth.

What follows is a solid historical adventure story with princesses, a prince, witches, political machinations and Fleance's realisation that there's is more to being an adult than the ability to procreate and swing a sword.

Roxborogh's characters are genuine – both her historical personages and her created fictions – there is an honesty to her descriptions that both endear and delight the reader.

Fleance is not all 'golden hero', he's as bumbling as any young man of his age. The 'good guys' are not entirely good, nor the 'baddie' entirely bad. There is a sense of humanity about the people of Roxborogh's novel.

Banquo's Son has solid historical footings, but the meat of the story is in the relationships and emotions of her characters. There is also a surprising twist towards the end of the novel, but those who know their Scottish history won't be too surprised at the outcome.

For lovers of historical fiction, Banquo's Son is an interesting take on a period of history that has become much confused with Shakespeare's popular play. While, this novel isn't an academic portrayal, it is less histrionic and more realistic than the play.

Roxborogh is in the process of writing a linked story of sorts, Bloodlines, which will be published in 2010, so there's more to look forward to from a writer who offers an interesting take on such a popular story.

Banquo's Son by TK Roxborogh is published by Penguin Books and is available from good book stores and online.

First published in The Straits Times blogs on October 22, 2009



Anonymous said...

Thanks Niki once again. I love it when people 'get' my stories.

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