Our house is wrapped up in a ball of nerves. State exams are looming large and each of my two examinees is stewing in their own particular brine of combined panic and determination.
To escape the fumes, the smaller girls and I have been gallivanting more than usual. Last Saturday we donned our glad rags and went to a junior Proms concert at City Hall. The Cork Youth Orchestra played a jolly selection of sing-a-long pops songs ( mostly ABBA), hits from musicals (mostly Annie) and movie soundtracks.
‘The Star Wars part was the best, Mum, wasn’t it?’ reminisced Small Girl this morning as I plaited her hair, ‘because they had storm troopers and everything?’
‘Uh huh, yes.’ I’m not a big talker until that first coffee hits the basal ganglia.
‘And it was brilliant when they mixed in the Harry Potter music too. I like the really old Harry Potter music.’
‘Because Harry Potter came first, didn’t it Mum, because books always come before films, don’t they?’ and it dawned on me that things that happened before you were born are all muddled together in a difficult to grasp and somehow irrelevant long ago, even if you are only five.
‘Well, yes, the Harry Potter books came before the Harry Potter films but the Star Wars films were made before that. The first Star Wars film was made a long time ago, when I was exactly your age.’
‘In a galaxy far far away?’ This girl, she makes me laugh.
That’s a rather long preamble (and it might get longer yet) into the book I want to tell you about. I’ve read that book purchasers are amongst the most brand loyal of all consumers. When we find an author we like, we will stick with them, preferring to invest our money and time in a sure thing than risk giving an unknown author a chance. Are you like that? I am, absolutely. Tracy Chevalier (The Virgin Blue, Girl With a Pearl Earring) is an author whose books I would buy without hesitation so I was very excited when I saw that she was involved in the Hogarth Shakespeare Project and doubly pleased that her chosen (or is it assigned?) Shakespearean play was Othello.
I studied Othello for my Leaving Certificate (ah, the whiff of exam pickle returns) so I know it. I mean, I’m no scholar but I got it, you know? I had a wonderful teacher, the kind they make movies about. She took Othello apart and put it back together again until it all made sense and, what’s more, it made sense of everything (if there is someone reading this who can send my love and gratitude to Bean Uí Chinnéide, please do).
We journeyed to Dublin on a bus so that we could see a black man play Othello. I might even have finished that last sentence at ‘see a black man’ full stop. Mind you, we didn’t dwell on the racism angle because Othello is about so much more than that. It’s about being different and courageous with it, being different and even proud of it. It’s about fear of the unknown and how we act to quell that fear. It’s about control, power, mind games, beauty, nobility, truth…it is dark and it is brilliant.
Just as dark and illuminating is New Boy. Tracy Chevalier has set her retelling of Othello a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away. Othello in a school playground of the 1970s. How flipping genius is that? Read my full (and marginally less rambling) review here.
By the way, for those who would have preferred Star Wars in iambic pentameter, this is amusing:
Now, I must go and attend to another pot of pickle. As a direct result of my solemn oath to be a true and honest tester of recipes, there is a fizzing jar of fermenting cabbage waiting to be ‘burped’…more on that anon.