Macbeth by Jo Nesbo

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth retold

5*

He’s the best cop they’ve got. 

When a drug bust turns into a bloodbath it’s up to Inspector Macbeth and his team to clean up the mess.

He’s also an ex-drug addict with a troubled past. 

He’s rewarded for his success. Power. Money. Respect. They’re all within reach. 

But a man like him won’t get to the top.

Plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, Macbeth starts to unravel. He’s convinced he won’t get what is rightfully his.

Unless he kills for it.

I haven’t read any of Jo Nesbo’s books so I wasn’t sure what to expect from his version of Macbeth, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett. And it’s been a long time since I read or saw a performance of Macbeth, one of my favourite plays, but it seems to me that Jo Nesbo’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth sticks well to Shakespeare’s version (which itself wasn’t original!) – it has the same themes and plot lines.

I loved the opening of Nesbo’s version describing the rain falling on an industrial town, the second largest after Capitol. The setting is rather vague – it is somewhere in the 1970s in a fictional Scotland in a lawless town full of drug addicts, where there is a titanic struggle for control between the police force, corrupt politicians, motorbike gangs and  drug dealers.

All the characters are here, including Duncan, the new police Chief Commissioner after Kenneth was killed, Malcolm his deputy, Banquo, Macbeth’s friend and his son, Fleance, Inspector Duff (Shakespeare’s Macduff, Thane of Fife), head of the Narcotics Unit, Caithness, the three witches, Lennox and so on. And watch out for Nesbo’s version of Great Birnam Wood – I don’t want to give any spoilers here!

It’s a tragedy, like Shakespeare’s, a tale of political ambition and the destructive power it wields, a tale of love and guilt, and of enormous greed of all kinds. Inspector Macbeth, an ex-drug addict is the head of the SWAT team, ruled by his passions, violent and paranoid. He is manipulated by Hecate, Shakespeare’s chief witch, here one of the drug lords, a man with a friendly smile and cold eyes, called by some the Invisible Hand; his ‘brew’ has made him one of the town’s richest men. Macbeth is corrupted by his renewed dependency on brew and fuelled by his passion for his wife, Lady, a tall, beautiful woman with flame-red hair who whispers seductively to Macbeth that he has to kill Duncan. And there’s a mole in their midst.

This is a dark, gritty and violent tale that had me completely enthralled and I loved it. It is the first book by Jo Nesbo that I’ve read – but it won’t be the last.

Thank you to Random UK/Vintage and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

  • Paperback: 624 pages (also available on Kindle and in Hardcover)
  • Publisher: Vintage (20 Sept. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009959806X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099598060
  • Review Copy
Note: Macbeth was first published  March 15th 2018 by Hogarth as part of  the Hogarth Shakespeare project that sees Shakespeare’s works retold by acclaimed and bestselling novelists of today. The series launched in October 2015 and to date will be published in twenty countries.

 

Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Company

We’ve been away most of last week visiting family and going to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Macbeth at the transformed Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Watching a live performance of any of Shakespeare’s plays is a special treat, one that we manage less frequently now that we’ve moved so far away from Stratford, but combining our visit with a family occasion made it possible this year. The new auditorium is impressive with a huge stage thrusting into the audience, seating around 1,000 people on three sides of the stage. Our seats were in the stalls, very close to the stage, with a group of school children seated in front of us, whose reactions were highly amusing.

The set design was dramatic and atmospherically dark, shattered stained glass windows in a ruined church with defaced images of saints and piles of rubble on the floor. At one point in the play Macbeth and Banquo erupted onto the stage through holes in the back wall. There are no weird sisters in this version of Macbeth; the prophecy is announced in suitably ghost-like tones by three children (the children of Macduff) suspended in the air above the stage as though they have been hung on meat hooks.

It was the children and Seyton the porter who stole the show for me, although the other actors all gave excellent performances. The murder of the children had me gasping and almost in tears as Macduff’s little daughter was taken away to her death. Jamie Beamish as Seyton was fantastic and his pyrotechnics really shocked me. Jonathan Slinger portrayed Macbeth as an frenetic lunatic who made me decidedly edgy and I never knew how close to me in the audience he was going to get – I was glad I wasn’t on the front row.

A hugely enjoyable performance.