11 October 2009

Banquo's Son by TK Roxborogh

Launched this month with celebrations in Dunedin and Auckland, was Tania Roxborogh's Banquo's Son, a follow-on novel to Shakespeare's Macbeth. After Macbeth killed Banquo his son fled - this is Roxborogh's take on what happened to that son - Fleance, and begins 10 years later.
Firstly I must say that I'm not an expert on Shakespeare, I'm familiar with the main works, refreshed recently as my daughter has been studying Hamlet. I was rather dreading beginning the book after reading in the author's notes that she had tried to use the speech of Shakespeare's time, but I didn't find it a problem, the text was reasonably formal but without too much specialised language (though I did have to look up 'reivers' - which wasn't in my Oxford dictionary so I didn't feel too bad not knowing the word myself, good old Google provided the answer though), with an occasional slip into modern colloquial language ('the night could not be for real'). I thought the tone quite consistent and not hard to read at all.
A brief run-down of the story - Fleance is 21, he's spent the last ten years in the care of the couple who picked him up after his father's murder, living in England. He's taken a fancy to young Rosie (this name seemed a bit out of place - was it common in those times?) and they seem destined for marriage. However Fleance is being haunted by his father and feels the call to revenge his murder. When pressured to make a commitment to Rosie, Fleance upsets everyone by choosing instead to leave for Scotland, without telling anyone what he must do as they don't know that he is Banquo's son. On his mission he meets Duncan, nephew of the current king who is dying. They make friends and Duncan takes him in to his household, also hoping that Fleance might make a good partner for Duncan's sister Rachel.
I won't got into more detail of the storyline for fear of spoiling the book for those who haven't read it yet. Kings die and are succeeded, battles are fought and sides must be chosen, duty being the strongest movtive for any choices made. The witches, so influential in Macbeth are back again, wielding their strange power, and not everyone is who they appear to be. There's betrayal, and romance, battle and friendship, and duty, duty, duty.
Although there are some fierce battle scenes and strong male roles I still felt a feminine cast over the whole story - or perhaps I was influenced by knowing the author - and that her main feedback was from students at the girls' school where she teaches.
I did enjoy the read, the twists and turns in the tale, mildly distracted on occasion by the typos that should certainly have been picked up in the editing and proofreading process. With a bit of luck there will quickly be a reprint and they can correct the errors.
There's been quite a bit of chat online and in print since the book was released, some negative, some positive.
The Fountainhead is a student of Roxborogh's and gives insight into the experience of joining the ride towards publication. Writers House, New York agent Josh Getzler has picked up the book and there are rumours of film rights. There's a good review from Otago Daily Times and an interview on CDM online magazine. NZ Book Month reviewer Lisa Scott talked mainly about the potential for Shakespeare sequels on screen (and calls Rosie 'Rose'), NZ Listener said nice things in this week's issue, which made up for Nicholas Reid in Sunday Star-Times. The book has its own blog where you can read all the comings and goings, and last I heard it was at number 3 on the fiction lists and sold 3000+, off to a great start.

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