20 Books of Summer: Lear's Shadow

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I read My October by Claire Holden Rothman when it was released in 2014, and really enjoyed it. I rambled and raved about it here. So when I saw a new one was being released by Holden Rothman, and came with this gorgeous cover, I knew I just had to have it, and it’s description definitely enticed!

A captivating novel about aging fathers, grown daughters, childhood scars, and rewriting the script with a little help from Shakespeare.

Now, I have not read King Lear, this wasn’t one of Shakespeare’s plays we covered in high school, but this didn’t result in any difficulty reading Lear’s Shadow. A quick lookup of that play was enough to situate this story in its context. It was easy to assess the direction of the story with Bea Rose living in Lear’s shadow – both in her role as an assistant stage manager assigned to the overbearing and sexist actor playing King Lear in the community production, and in the shadow of her father who was descending deeper into madness, just like Lear.

So, did this story of Bea and her relationships with her sister, her father, past lovers and her newly found life nearing age 40 address Lear’s shadow? Did it delve deep enough to convey this connection to King Lear? 

For me, I didn’t think so. Where I found My October to have many layers and complexities to the characters and the story, I can’t say I found the same in Lear’s Shadow. And connecting Lear’s Shadow to King Lear could have, should have had these deep, meaningful and complex connections. It begged for them. Lear’s Shadow could have been so meaningful, especially between Bea and her father, and also with her sister and their father, but instead of finding those layers, as found in My October, they were only stepped over and missed opportunity here.  Upon closing its pages, I wondered if this would be one that would turn slowly in my head meaning I would grow fonder of it, or would it leave my head altogether? I finished reading this about a week or two ago, and it has sadly fallen into the latter.

Were the characters fully fleshed out? I think not as much as I would have liked to have read. I felt like it was so very on the surface only and it was difficult to deeply connect to any of the characters inside. That feeling of only a thin surface being drawn also came about with the many loose threads as well. The backstory of Bea, her scars, her relationship to her father (and her failed relationship) felt only like little wisps of storylines – I didn’t feel there was the depth and complexity to them. They could have been so layered with complexity and telling. I was left begging for there to be something more, something to grab onto, really dig into, yet, instead there were only these wispy threads.

So overall, a good story, but one that left me wanting. I truly appreciated reading the Montreal locations however. I could easily picture them in my mind while reading. Will this be a Giller longlisted title? I’m not sure, I would have to see the other contenders. I’m really hoping this year the Giller Prize releases the list of nominated titles so we can prowl through and guess the longlisted contenders. That was a woefully missing component last year!

The Montreal Gazette ran this story about Holden Rothman’s inspiration for Lear’s Shadow, for your interest:

Shakespeare's a springboard for Claire Holden Rothman in Lear's Shadow