Review: I, Iago, Nicole Galland

Some years, my pal Jeanne from Necromancy Never Pays makes it down to Louisiana and stops by for a visit with my family. Last year, she so so kindly brought me a book as a gift: I, Iago, by Nicole Galland, which she said I would enjoy.

I Iago

(Spoiler: I did, indeed, enjoy it.)

Nearly an entire year later, when I recalled that Jeanne would possibly be visiting again soon (yay!), I gave myself a stern talking-to about putting off reading books that were gifts, and I pulled I, Iago down off my TBR shelf and read it. And the thing is, the thing is, the book was completely delightful. Why would I not have read it before? Why do I own books and not read them?

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I, Iago was predictably delightful. It’s a retelling of the Othello story from Iago’s perspective, and it doesn’t so much try to rehabilitate Iago as it tries to explain how he got to a place where he was willing to do all the evil deeds that he does in the play. The first half of the book is dedicated to his life as a Venetian, a man of battles, and a husband. Galland fleshes out a wonderful backstory for Iago, and his relationship with Emilia is particularly enjoyable. (I can’t speak to her historical research as I know 0 things about old-time Venice. They had doges? I dunno. I, Iago makes it seem like they had hella parties.)

The second half, in my opinion, was less successful, falling prey to the same problem that many Shakespeare retellings faces, i.e., that it is very, very difficult to produce a faithful retelling of a Shakespeare play that doesn’t just annoy you for not actually being the Shakespeare play. In many places, Galland is reproducing dialogue from the play, but in a more casual idiom in line with the rest of her book. Since Shakespeare’s dialogue is a byword of genius, this is — maybe not the choice I’d have made. The fun of fanfiction (at least a major part of the fun of fanfiction) is its ability to flesh out stories that occur in the margins of the source text, and I, Iago is at its best when it does exactly that.

Tell me, friends, now that I’m in the mood for it: What’s the best Shakespeare retelling you’ve ever read?

  • Jeanne

    I’m glad you enjoyed it; I agree about the second half. My other favorite Shakespeare retelling is the movie Stage Beauty, with Billy Crudup and Claire Danes. They both play Desdemona, at the point in the 17th C when women began playing women’s parts on stage. It is devastating. (And yes, I do have a thing about Othello.)

    • Yessssss, I love Stage Beauty! Billy Crudup is such an interesting and charismatic actor, and I’m perpetually sad that he’s not in more stuff. He was wonderful in Stage Beauty.

  • Alice

    Ok not READ, but I do love the Shakespeare Retold or whatever it’s called series where Much Ado was about news anchors. That was A+. And Taming of the Shrew where she’s an MP and has to get married for her career.

    • YES THAT WAS GREAT. The one where James McAvoy is Chef Macbeth and Keeley Hawes was Lady Macbeth was so great, I know we have spoken about this before but I STILL FEEL GREAT ABOUT IT. I should actually like go back and watch it over again and see how it holds up a decade on.

  • I loved Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed, a retelling of The Tempest. And I once saw a modern, revisionist version of Hamlet in which he had a huge, spiked codpiece!

    • Ooh, yes, I want to read Hagseed! The Tempest is my second-fave of the comedies, after Much Ado, so I am always down for reimaginings of it.

  • I don’t think I have ever read a retelling in which I knew going into it that it was a retelling. That being said, does The Lion King count as the best retelling ever?

    • Hahahaha, I fully can’t watch The Lion King. I get too emotional about Simba losing his father, because I can’t stop imagining how sad I would be if my own father died in a herd of wildebeest. Like, I don’t even own it on DVD, that is how little I anticipate that I will ever watch it again. TOO TRAGIC.

  • Fool, by Christopher Moore. Hands down, no thinking about it, one of my favorite books in the world, never mind the Shakespeare connection. Funny and touching and dirty. King Lear from the POV of the fool. Did I mention dirty? Lots of jokes for the groundlings.

    • Okay Sharon, I have a confession now. I have never read or seen King Lear. TRUE FACTS. I don’t think I can read Fool without having any familiarity with the source text, right?

      • Oh, you can, you can! My only exposure to Lear before I read it was sitting through the discussions in the class for which I was SUPPOSED to read Lear but didn’t. It is very loosely based. There are a couple of plot changes near the end that are very satisfying if you’ve always thought that Cordelia deserved better, but no preexisting knowledge is required! (Read it read it read it)

  • Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E.K. Johnston. She takes A Winter’s Tale and runs with it.

    I need to see more Shakespeare Retold.I love how fun it is to retell the plays in modern settings. I think novels aren’t the best medium to revisit Shakespeare in, because, frankly, his plots make no sense.

  • litlove

    How cool that you and Jeanne get to hang out together! And swap delightful books, too. I am woefully short on Shakespeare rewrites to offer, but I did just recently tell Jeanne that I think she’d love Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith, which is a retelling of the myth of Iphis with fun gender games, and I think you’d love it too.

  • It’s so neat that you and Jeanne know each other and give each other books! I, Iago
    sounds interesting. I don’t know what my favorite Shakespeare retelling is. At the moment, I can’t think of any, though I know I’ve read several (they’re everywhere!).

  • Venice is the heartland of hella parties 😀 They aren’t adaptations, but Jennifer Lee Carrol’s mysteries are probably my favorite take on Shakespeare. The heroine is a Shakespearean scholar who left academia to direct plays at the Globe, and then she solves Shakespearean mysteries on the side.

  • Alley

    Love this, want this. Retelling of Othello? Yes, please! ALTHOUGH, I mean, Othello is already pretty much from Iago’s point of view, what with all his soliloquies to the audience. But whatever, I’m here for pretty much any Shakespeare retelling.

    But really, my fav Shakespeare retelling is Christophe Moore’s Fool. It’s a retelling of King Lear and I’m like 85% sure you don’t actually need to know the play before hand. I’m not 100% cos I already knew the play so maybe there’s stuff that I didn’t realize I got cos I already knew the play. He has Serpent of Venice as well, which is sort of a cross between Othello and the Merchant of Venice, but Fool is the best.

  • Aarti

    Ooh, this reminds me that I have not yet read your gift book to me! I shall do so. Soon. -Ish.