by Tracy Chevalier
The idea behind the Hogarth Shakespeare series is at once simple and Shakespearean. Contemporary novelists (Jo Nesbo, Margaret Atwood, Anne Tyler and so on) update a Shakespeare play, in much the same way Shakespeare once turned base source material into theatrical gold. Tracy Chevalier, best known for Girl With a Pearl Earring (1999), uses Othello as the basis for New Boy, which also draws on her own childhood in 1970s Washington. Osei Kokote is an 11-year-old Ghanaian who must constantly change schools due to his father’s diplomatic career. And his latest presents a further twist: he is the only black student. Dee (Desdemona), the school’s alpha female, falls for the handsome, physically gifted and courageous youth. School bully Ian (Iago) schemes against the couple from the start. The strengths and weaknesses of Chevalier’s effort are glimpsed in her dual decision to lower the characters’ ages and cram the action into a single, overheated day. New Boy is accomplished and readable but, like many modern Hogarths, it feels like “trifles light as air”.