Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson: A Book Review


Man Booker Prize-winner Howard Jacobson brings his singular brilliance to this modern re-imagining of one of Shakespeare’s most unforgettable characters: Shylock

Winter, a cemetery, Shylock. In this provocative and profound interpretation of “The Merchant of Venice,” Shylock is juxtaposed against his present-day counterpart in the character of art dealer and conflicted father Simon Strulovitch. With characteristic irony, Jacobson presents Shylock as a man of incisive wit and passion, concerned still with questions of identity, parenthood, anti-Semitism and revenge. While Strulovich struggles to reconcile himself to his daughter Beatrice’s “betrayal” of her family and heritage – as she is carried away by the excitement of Manchester high society, and into the arms of a footballer notorious for giving a Nazi salute on the field – Shylock alternates grief for his beloved wife with rage against his own daughter’s rejection of her Jewish upbringing. Culminating in a shocking twist on Shylock’s demand for the infamous pound of flesh, Jacobson’s insightful retelling examines contemporary, acutely relevant questions of Jewish identity while maintaining a poignant sympathy for its characters and a genuine spiritual kinship with its antecedent—a drama which Jacobson himself considers to be “the most troubling of Shakespeare’s plays for anyone, but, for an English novelist who happens to be Jewish, also the most challenging.”

My Review: I had recently read Vinegar Girl, another in the Hogarth Shakespeare series and I had really enjoyed that one, and so I was eager to read another modern day retelling of a classic Shakespeare work.

Sadly, my feelings toward this retelling are far different than my previous read. I had not been familiar at all with The Merchant of Venice, and I don’t know if it would have helped if I was. I just found this book so boring and honestly had to force myself to finish it. The story-line went nowhere.  I did not find any redeeming qualities in any of the characters and I don’t know what the original Shakespeare is about, but this one was full of obsession over being Jewish, circumcision, bad jokes and painting Christianity in a negative light.

I don’t doubt that Jacobson is a good writer, and I’m sure this book may appeal to some, but I found it utterly horrid. Easily one of the worst books I’ve ever endured.

* I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books free of charge, in exchange for my honest review.


Howard Jacobson is the author of four works of nonfiction and several novels, including The Finkler Question, which won the Man Booker Prize;The Mighty Walzer, which won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Award for comic writing; and Who’s Sorry Now?which was long-listed for the Booker Prize. He has a weekly column for The Independent and regularly reviews and writes for The Guardian, The Times, and The Evening Standard. Jacobson has also done several specials for British television. He lives in London.

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