Sunday, October 18, 2009

Banquo's Son (Book Review)

Writing a sequel to one of Shakespeare’s tragedies is no mean feat, but to carry it out with the eloquence and passion displayed by T. K. Roxborogh in her recent novel Banquo’s Son demonstrates pure genius.

Banquo’s Son, the first in an upcoming trilogy, tells the story of Fleance, the son of Thane Banquo in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, ten years after the events of the play. It weaves an intricate pattern of politics, honour, corruption and love that skilfully echoes Macbeth and satisfies the Shakespearean fan who craves an answer to the play’s greatest unanswered question: Will the witches’ prophecy about Banquo be fulfilled?

Shakespeare may have left us little legacy regarding the character and personality of Fleance, but Ms. Roxborogh does not disappoint us. Courageous, honourable, intelligent and chivalrous, he takes his place among some of the playwright’s greatest protagonists. The reader is taken on an epic journey with Fleance as he comes to terms with his past and his heritage, and wrestles with his love for Rosie. Along the way we encounter Scottish nobles, political dissent, hidden agendas, true friendship, and the three witches, who once again attempt to corrupt the throne of Scotland through deception and the poisoning of the mind.

The style of the novel is crafted cleverly; the narrative is composed in modern day English, whereas the speech is Elizabethan in manner. Writes Ms. Roxborogh inside the front cover of Banquo’s Son, “I imagined myself sitting at Shakespeare’s desk penning this sequel.” This has visibly proven itself throughout the text, as the reader feels as though he is treading Fleance’s journey in the shoes of a 16th century English citizen.

Ms. Roxborogh draws on complex Shakespearean themes in her novel with expertise and dexterity, displaying tremendous talent and brilliance. Fleance’s love for Rosie is challenged by the need to revenge his father’s death, similar to the predicament that Shakespeare’s Hamlet finds himself in in the eponymous play. Also, both men struggle with their upper class status preventing them from marrying their lower class love interest. Banquo’s Son is a treasure trove of Shakespearean issues, knitted together in an adroit fashion, that have been deliberated for centuries.

Banquo’s Son is a fresh, innovative story that is a delight for modern readers yet does not sacrifice the multifarious nature and complexity of its Shakespearean prequel. Ms. Roxborogh has balanced canon with originality and forged an extraordinary masterpiece, worthy of its predecessor. William Shakespeare would be proud.

Banquo's Son is a novel written by Dunedin author Tania Roxborogh, the first in a trilogy, penned as a sequel to Shakespeare's Macbeth. It was published by Penguin Books in 2009. To visit the official blog, click here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Response to Lisa Scott's review of Banquo's Son (NZ Book Month)

This review is a response to a review written by Lisa Scott on the novel Banquo's Son, as part of New Zealand Book Month 2009. To read Lisa Scott's review of Banquo's Son, click here:

Ever wondered what happened to Fleance at the end of Macbeth? Yes - I did. And so, probably, did millions of readers of Shakespeare since the play was first published several centuries ago. This enormous audience, it would seem, does not include book reviewer Lisa Scott.

It appears that Ms. Scott isn't really very well read in Shakespeare - either that, or she skim-read Macbeth, a true literary crime for any of his plays. Fleance's appearance in the play may be small, but his significance cannot be shoved under the carpet. The three witches, who corrupted Macbeth into tyranny, foretold that Banquo (cousin to Macbeth) would not be a king, but that he would father kings, presenting him and his son as a threat to Macbeth's reign. The biggest question that is left hanging at the end of the play is thus: What becomes of Fleance, and will he one day be king? After all, if he is intricately linked to the throne, he is far more of a plot shaper than one would expect for a minor character. Macbeth took pains to arrange the assassination of Banquo and Fleance in order to secure his hold on Scotland. Fleance didn't simply escape because Shakespeare hated child abuse. Macbeth could not escape the witches' predictions, and try as she might, neither can Ms. Scott.

The true spirit of the story of Macbeth is preserved in Banquo's Son. Macbeth deals with the throne of Scotland, greed and power, honour and trust, loyalty and corruption. Ms. Roxborogh deals us an identical hand with a fresh, original story that is faithful to its predecessor. This is far more deserving of praise than criticism. I would like to see Ms. Scott tackle such a daunting challenge and match the masterpiece that is Banquo's Son, before throwing around harsh and poor judgement.

It is interesting to note that Ms. Scott peppers her review with scathing remarks about the theme of love in Banquo's Son, when it bears striking similarities to Hamlet, which is widely considered Shakespeare's greatest work - again, a lack of Shakespearean education on her part, I would presume. The relationship between Fleance and Rosie is besieged by a myriad of problems that mirrors Hamlet and Ophelia in Hamlet; Ms. Scott refers to this as it appears in Banquo's Son as 'the rollercoaster ride'. Both Fleance and Hamlet neglect their love interest for the need to revenge the death of their fathers, both whom appear to their sons as ghosts. Fleance is plagued with the issue of nobility and marriage (he being of royal blood, she being a peasant girl), and Ophelia is warned by her father to cease her relationship with the Hamlet as, being the future king, he cannot marry a girl of such low status as her. Love versus honour and love versus class - these are not half baked ideas one reads on the jacket of a Mills and Boon novel, but complex, contemplative themes that flow from the mind of the great playwright himself. On the back cover of Banquo's Son, Ms. Roxborogh writes 'Everything in life comes with a price'. This is a universal statement that rings true throughout Shakespeare's plays, and Ms. Roxborogh has done tremendous justice to it in her novel.

The New Zealand Book Month website states '[Lisa Scott's] wit and smart observations will be a treat for us as we celebrate the fourth NZ Book Month', and so far, this claim has proven to be false. I have observed no wit from Ms. Scott, nothing smart in the way of observations, and the only treat I've received is the story enclosed in the pages of the beautiful, shiny, black book in my hand that Ms. Roxborogh has gifted the world with. New Zealand should be proud to have her as an author. I can't wait for Bloodlines.

Banquo's Son is a novel written by Dunedin author Tania Roxborogh, the first in a trilogy, penned as a sequel to Shakespeare's Macbeth. It was published by Penguin Books in 2009. The second book in the trilogy, Bloodlines, is due to be published in 2010.