In Tracy Chevalier’s New Boy, Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello is transplanted to a school in 1970s Washington DC.
This is not a radical reimagining of Shakespeare’s play, and for those enamoured with the classic work, Chevalier’s tale will hold few surprises. Which isn’t to say New Boy won’t resonate with such readers, just that you’ll be reading with a dreadful sense of inevitability burdening your conscious. Thankfully the dynamics and anachronisms of this retelling work wonderfully, and the transposition of Othello, Desdemona, Iago and so forth, into adolescents, is superbly effective.
Son of a Ghanian diplomat, Osei Kokote arrives at his fifth school in as many years, cognisant of what must be done if he is to survive his first day. There’s a lot of politics involved in being the “new kid,” especially when the colour of your skin is different to everybody else’s. He needs an ally: someone to tie him into the social fabric. He finds that person in Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one student, Ian, is apoplectic at this budding relationship, and begins scheming. Come the end of this school day, the friendship between the black boy and the perfect little princess will be in ruins, and the impact of their decimation will ripple through the lives of pupils and teachers alike.
Some readers will bemoan the closeness to which New Boy adheres to the original work, but thanks to the richness of this young cast, and Chevalier’s majestic ability to transport readers back to the playground, with all its heightened drama, this latest instalment in the Hogarth Shakespeare series is a must-read. It will certainly rank as one of my favourite books of the year.
Format: Paperback (216mm x 135mm x 14mm)
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 11-May-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom