Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Note: Enter Three Witches

Cooney, Caroline B. Enter Three Witches. New York: Scholastic Press, 2007.

Enter Three Witches, a Shakespeare-related young adult novel, offers a compelling and intriguing take on Macbeth. In a series of short vignettes at the beginning of the novel, Cooney establishes and develops her main characters—from that point on, I found it hard to put the book down.

The plot of Shakespeare's Macbeth is conveyed through the eyes of a number of characters, but the chief among them are Lady Mary, the daughter of the treacherous Thane of Cawdor, living in the Macbeths' castle; Swin, a servant girl with a brusque exterior that she uses to hide a brusque interior (which, in turn, hides some good qualities); Ildred, a companion to Lady Macbeth and the holder of a secret; and Seyton and Fleance, who reprise their roles from the play and develop in interesting ways through the plot of the novel. Despite the title, the Weïrd Sisters don't take a prominent role. They are present, and they are powerful, but their role in the novel is more incidental than central.

I admire the novel's construction and its author's skill with both plot and language. Lady Mary, overlooked after her father's execution as a traitor, is able to observe many of the key scenes from Shakespeare's play unobserved and to contemplate and to comment on them as she does so. It's a clever device, and it's also cleverly used. The speeches she overhears are mostly modernized prose versions of Shakespeare's speeches (with the notable exception of "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow"), but the modernizing is done with a light touch that does not distract from the plot.

And Cooney doesn't pull any punches with the plot, though much of the violence takes place offstage. It's written for a younger audience, but I imagine that readers younger than eleven or so will be troubled by some elements in the story.

Enter Three Witches is one of the best Shakespeare-related young adult novels I've read recently. I highly recommend it—but don't start it until you have time enough to finish it! It will pull you in and refuse to let you go.

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Bonus Image: Alternate Cover for Enter Three Witches

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Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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