Suddenly the theatre is plunged into darkness and Cyndi Lauper's voice rings out with Time after Time. Then the lights come up, and all alone in the centre of the stage is the tiny figure of Winterson. She's wearing a plain shirt, jeans, boots and no other adornments. With her tousled hair (undyed) - that for sure sometime in this performance she will rake her hands through - she commands our attention. Behind her now Leontes' voice rages from a scene in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. Let the show begin.
2016 is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. Winterson's cover version of one his last plays - The Winter's Tale - is both her tribute to Shakespeare, and the fulfilling of a life-long ambition to retell the story of Perdita, the abandoned child in the play. Winterson herself was an adopted child, and in re-telling the story in this her latest novel, she reaffirms what we already suspect - human emotions have not changed with time. The setting may be different but jealousy, rage, revenge and the redemptive power of love just keep trucking along.
Now, if you are anything like me, the link to a Shakespeare play will not be that much of a turn on. Sure we've all read them, and sure they are great literature - but won't this just be like chewing old gum? You can go through the motions, but the flavour has long gone ... And maybe you get that itchy feeling of looming potential inferiority. Are we going to be made to feel just the teeniest bit stupid?
But no. Winterson read the first chapter of her book to us and so captivated was the audience, that people left before question time in order to queue to buy the few remaining copies on sale. With only one short break from the mic - when darkness descended again and Stay with Me by Ed Sheeran filled the space - Winterson lead us into her story:
A black man finds a white baby abandoned in the night. He gathers her up - light as a star - and decides to take her home.
I'm not embarrassed to say that I was near the head of the queue to buy one of the last copies, nor that it seemed so vital to me that I bought it there at the festival, nor that I cried when the music filled the vastness of the auditorium, nor that this book will be inflicted on all my various reading groups.
I've told you next to nothing about the story. And I'm not really embarrassed about that either.
Just read it.
Find out more
- Find out more about the Auckland Writers Festival 2016
- Browse all our Auckland Writers Festival posts
- Read Masha, Moata and Roberta’s Auckland Writers Festival 2016 recommended booklist
- See photos from the Festival