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Author: J L Carrell
When it comes down to historical content and whom it involves, the reader hasn't much of a choice of its origin, if the content stimulates their own creative juices. When this occurs, a creative peruses and tussles with the inspiration like a kitten with a ball of wool. Sometimes you may despise the origin's subject, but the intrigue overwhelms you, and overall, your own work is paramount. I morally detest Shakespeare's treatment of his literacy counterparts - Being opium dependent, left him creatively retarded - so he manipulated Roman barons during the 'Opium Wars' and re-branded Italian wordsmiths - the West marvelled at his alleged creations. There is a lot to be said about the writings stroke interpretations of William Shakespeare; partly because they were not of his doing creatively. On that premise I can only feel great pride for writers whom get durable inspiration from these works as a form of default springboard, for their own creativity. Good coming out of evil. Dante and company would smile in glee knowing indirectly they're inspiring intellectuals hundreds of years after their demise. One such lady is the American intellect; Jennifer Carrell the author of 'The Shakespeare Curse' - Carrell embroiders skilfully around the playwright's narration of Macbeth, and her recycling process starts.
Carrell coherently portrays a bygone era - aided by the fact she wrote her first book which was set in 1721, 'The Speckled Monster'; about the pandemic smallpox. Macbeth emulates similar assured era knowledge - that can only be achieved by an author who isn't just an astute writer, but firstly a competent historian. Adverse to conforming to a stereotypical adaptation, that'll be forgotten before the book's ink is dry. Macbeth is played out via a script abstract enough to dehumanise and smooth out the blooded evil. Without losing its potency, the narrative is filtered, brought up to date, bewildering her audience of the myth's mainstay supernaturalism, which collectively endorses Carrell's position as a modern day thriller writer. Enter Kate Stanley, who was called to direct the play, and her collaborate Ben who sporadically shows up meandering Carrell's stage. They're the modern entities to the mix - historically acclaimed, preferably Shakespearean scholars rather than the infamous Oxonian 'Morse'. Both Kate and Ben are familiar characters in Carrell's earlier book 'The Shakespeare Secret' - Having already built up their characters prior to 'The Shakespeare Curse', publication. The sequel was able to muster other formulas' - Impressive Macbeth anecdotes marinating around Scottish Theatre at this era. Her style allows the inner dwellings of Macbeth's narrative to breathe and seek out the feverish uncertainties of the curse itself. A myth resides due to a collective fear of the profound, darkening our reality. Remnants of mystical force live on through the use of alleged witchcraft from Shakespearean times (thought to derive from 1611 - The first showing of the Scottish play) - witchcraft was a new legal fad, due to: King James I (1567 - 1625) reign - and was widely used, beforehand it was outlawed, any use of such dealing of witchcraft (dark forces) was dealt with the death penalty. Not any longer - witchcraft was curtailed to good deeds. Lo, not the case, as legend has it.
The web of illusion
Carrell's mythical knowledge is effective. The in-depth research aids it too great effect - using the term 'taboo' (the word 'taboo' was first known to be used in 1777 so wasn't around during the first showing of Macbeth) Carrell expresses the word as a synonym to 'suspicion' - engineering supernatural feeling amongst her characters, creating the reader to feel edgy, twitchy. Macbeth renamed in script to 'MacDaddy' and 'MacBeast', epitomised the apprehension for those connected had. Beyond the play, the curse's residue energy creeps into the present text and just like her subjects (characters), Carrell skits through aspects of her narrative - flicking through as if the short play was a superfluous comic book in parts. On a whim she'll approach Shakespearian language, like a well oiled polyglot. Delving into the periodical performance as if you've just walked into the next room, snippets of conversation brings credibility to the on-goings. Snapshots of historical facts swim in a sea of suspended foundations, sections of sentence construction flicks in and out like a holographic film. Emerged in the well adhered Macbeth foundation, the language and the mystical world of J R R Tolkein (1892 - 1973) seeps in, mimicking a translucent sedative, dulling the anxiety of what Macbeth brings. In the midst a murder investigation takes fold - a mastermind conundrum indeed.
Extremities, such as not addressing the casts full names directly to one another, gives the impression the characters are cleverly imbalanced on the whole concept of the curse. Representing a bubble of trepidation, harvesting itself - burrowing into rational thought processes - the supernatural temerity triggers off U' turns, and leads them to focalise on Shakespeare's artefacts, but will it provide the answers? What springs off the page is Carrell's vitality for her subjects, how the world of sacrificial murder (Pagan sacrifices) and witchcraft lures Kate into a tangled web of deadly curiosities, whereby a real entity could be at the centre. Staged during the golden age for the playwrights, when Scottish theatres went via the notion that a plays performance illustrated grandiose 'glamour' - an awe factor that's present in Macbeth - 'glamour' means 'magic' during the Shakespearean era. A belief that habits theatres across the spectrum, beyond the golden era - Carrell's success highlights peoples' unquenched fascination with such works.
Thanks to the chasm of opportunities that opened up via Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code' - 'The Shakespeare Curse' is of the same leaf. The book seals myriad research material, which accompanies the urban myth. Written in awe of the subject - Carrell's passion for the history, factual content, Scottish theatre, and the English/Scottish periodical culture is admirable. You kind of feel she has beaten Dan Brown to the Shakespearean thread. Boldly she has planted her nine foot American flag literacy metaphor, on the playwright's 'inflated reputation'; and running with it, and rightly so, until the inspiration dries - It'll be fascinating where she gets to, with her next installment? Naturally Carrell pays a gargantuan tribute to 'the' playwright phenomena, as it has served her well - puts J L Carrell on the literature map as it were. It has fed her, clothed her and like a plethora of American's they bathe in the education of the English heritage - our compelling history, our insurmountable story telling, and they buy it all. If I was American, I'd do the same; I'd absorb it, live it and breathe it. Shakespeare does indeed captivate an audience; but it takes a sublime savvy writer to seek out and gnaw at the flesh and recycle it. Like a 'Ferraro Rocher' chocolate - 'J L Carrell, you are spoil-ling us!'
In the summer of 2008, whilst travelling on a coach to Lake Garda in Italy, I read the wonderful J. L. Carrell novel 'The Shakespeare Secret' and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I was so enthralled by it in fact that by the time I reached my hotel in Italy I had read the entire book. Funny then that it should be this summer (2010), whilst once again travelling on a coach to Italy - Tuscany this time, however, that I should read the second instalment by Carrell 'The Shakespeare Curse'.
In comparison to the first novel I have to admit that I didn't enjoy this one as much and that I didn't devour it during the travel alone but took another four days to complete it. This is not because the book was uninteresting or that it was badly written but just that it didn't hook me as much as the first one had. The style of writing is still brilliant and the novel orchestrated painstakingly well with clever intricacies and academic jibes. The problem for me possibly came from the less frequent use of the character Ben, whom I had come to love in the first novel. Ben still plays a key part in this novel but his character has less of a spark than he previously had and does not appear often enough for my liking. The Kate, Ben pairing in the first novel was what gave it that added dimension the lack of it in this one did leave me feeling a little disappointed.
The general thread of this novel is, however, just as good as the previous one and sees Kate, ex-professor now Shakespearian play director, do her level best to sort through the myth, the mystery and the chaos to reveal the truth. When a brutally murdered body of a stunning young woman is found on a Scottish hillside beside an intriguingly mysterious knife, everything about it suggests ancient pagan sacrifice. Things get worse when on the same hill a trench is found filled with blood. As the shocking discoveries mount so do the links with the curse of the play never named - Macbeth.
As the title of the book suggests and the general novel theme also attests, this novel has strong connections with Shakespeare's plays. It is therefore at times a little confusing if the reader does not have a basic Shakespeare knowledge, especially surrounding Macbeth. I personally loved all the references to and quotes from Shakespeare's texts but I can easily see how others would find this irritating. Ultimately, however, all these references form a major part of the plot and without them the novels imply could not exist. I would therefore suggest that those who have little interest in Shakespeare or become annoyed by novels quoting other works, do not attempt to read this work of fiction.
The work is as I have just mentioned a piece of fiction and has been orchestrated and created within the author's mind. It can though be very difficult to separate what is true Shakespeare and Shakespeare myth from what has simply been fabricated by Carrell herself. This in my opinion is true genius as it really makes the reader think about everything they are being told. The Author's Notes at the end do, however, rectify this by directing the reader to notice, which parts of the novel are fiction, which are based loosely on fact and which are fact themselves.
All in all I must say that 'The Shakespeare Curse' is a novel I enjoyed and that although it was not as good as Carrell's first instalment in this series, I will be eagerly awaiting the third part. Let's just hope that if a third novel is on the card that it arrives quicker than this one did.