02 March 2016

Shylock Is My Name by Howard Jacobson

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Man Booker Prize-winner Howard Jacobson brings his singular brilliance to this modern re-imagining of one of Shakespeare’s most unforgettable characters: Shylock.

Winter, a cemetery, Shylock. In this provocative and profound interpretation of “The Merchant of Venice,” Shylock is juxtaposed against his present-day counterpart in the character of art dealer and conflicted father Simon Strulovitch.  With characteristic irony, Jacobson presents Shylock as a man of incisive wit and passion, concerned still with questions of identity, parenthood, anti-Semitism and revenge. While Strulovich struggles to reconcile himself to his daughter Beatrice's “betrayal” of her family and heritage – as she is carried away by the excitement of Manchester high society, and into the arms of a footballer notorious for giving a Nazi salute on the field – Shylock alternates grief for his beloved wife with rage against his own daughter's rejection of her Jewish upbringing. Culminating in a shocking twist on Shylock’s demand for the infamous pound of flesh, Jacobson’s insightful retelling examines contemporary, acutely relevant questions of Jewish identity while maintaining a poignant sympathy for its characters and a genuine spiritual kinship with its antecedent—a drama which Jacobson himself considers to be “the most troubling of Shakespeare’s plays for anyone, but, for an English novelist who happens to be Jewish, also the most challenging.”

Retellings of well-known stories always seem to draw my attention, regardless of my familiarity with the original. Hence, when I came across Howard Jacobson’s “The Merchant of Venice” retelling, Shylock Is My Name, (which is part of Hogarth Shakespeare), I couldn’t resist the opportunity to read it. Admittedly, I haven’t attempted reading the classic Shakespearean play since high school, so I only have a vague understanding of its plot and characters. Still, I appreciated the manner in which the story transports into the modern day and receives a bit of fresh perspective. Jacobson offers an exploration of the Jewish identity through the unforgettable Shylock and a cast of complex characters. The novel is well-written, mostly interesting to read, and sure to appeal to fans of Shakespeare and retellings - don’t hesitate to check it out.

Thanks to Blogging for Books, I received a copy of Shylock Is My Name and the opportunity to provide an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, and all the opinions I have expressed are my own.


  1. Anonymous8/3/16 10:28

    This sounds like a really fascinating retelling/update. I am a Shakespeare fan as well as someone drawn to explore the horror of the Nazi era and it's somewhat paler imitations that still exist today. I'm jotting its name down on my TBR list. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you get the chance to read it!