A searing story of passion, betrayal, battles and love, this is Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ stripped of superstition, and its power and beauty refined into fewer words where good balances the evil and there is a happy ending – for some.
Following on from OPHELIA, QUEEN OF DENMARK and I AM JULIET, this is the third title in the series for young people that focuses on the reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s classic and enduring plays.
Annie is not a witch, but when her mistress Lady Macbeth calls for a potion to ‘stiffen Macbeth’s sinews’, Annie is caught up in plots that lead to murder, kingship, and betrayal. Annie must also not only choose between Rab the Blacksmith and Murdoch, Thane of Greymouth, but discover where her loyalty lies.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Macbeth of late, for a combination of reasons I suppose. There’s the new movie I’ve seen advertised, Lady Macbeth, while at the high school I work at the Year 12 students have begun studying Macbeth for their senior English Shakespeare unit, leading to some interesting discussions with a few of them. I still remember studying Macbeth for my own senior English Shakespeare unit, performing a dramatic monologue of Lady Macbeth ending her own life, having elected to go solo instead of performing in small groups like my classmates. Macbeth was the third Shakespeare play I had read, Romeo and Juliet the first, followed by A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Macbeth of course is very different from these other two plays, but I instantly preferred it and Lady Macbeth fast became my favourite Shakespeare character. I can’t really account for why, I just felt her, a connection that reached out and kept me reading what many label as Shakespeare’s most complex work.
I first became aware of Third Witch from my Twitter feed. Jackie French had posted the cover image – which is stunning, I might add, and instantly grabbed my attention – with a tag line along the lines of no one ever referring to Lady Macbeth by her real name. It’s funny how one comment can generate so many thoughts. Needless to say, I was intrigued enough to search for the novel, newly released, and purchase it immediately.
Third Witch is an excellent retelling of Macbeth. I find when reading novels that are either based on real people from history or famous stories retold, they work better when examined from the eyes of someone other than the famous person or previous main character. And so it was in Third Witch, where we hear a version of Macbeth from Lady Macbeth’s most trusted lady’s maid, Annie Grasseyes, or Lady Anne, as we come to know her by, later in the story. Retelling Macbeth from this different, removed yet still close, perspective propels Macbeth into an accessible and easy to understand format. Still containing Shakespearean dialogue, Jackie French explains it all throughout the narrative, allowing the reader to fully appreciate the story without becoming overwhelmed by the old world language.
I enjoyed the way Jackie French depicted the growing madness of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as time progressed. The ripple effect of a single action was well showcased, so too, the debilitating effects of guilt on a person’s conscience. I also enjoyed Annie’s observations on happiness and it’s connections to wealth; particularly those instances where she noted the gross wastage of food and the endlessly idle hours. These were important observations and served to set Annie’s character on a path to redemption in the long run.
As promised in Jackie French’s Twitter teaser, we do get to learn Lady Macbeth’s real name. And while I hate to be a spoiler, I still couldn’t resist sharing a hint, because I love this part, particularly the last line:
‘…my daughter still toddling at my skirts. I’d called her…, after my lady. No one but me, it seemed, remembered her true name. She had lost it when she married, as women do.’
I’ll leave you to discover Lady Macbeth’s name for yourself within the novel, but I wanted to include this small part for two reasons: like I already mentioned, I love the last line, the noting of how women lose their identities when they marry. But also for it’s testimony to the enduring friendship between these two women, from such different beginnings, the love still lingering even long after Lady Macbeth was gone. If Jackie French’s aim was to demonstrate good triumphing over evil and superstition, then she’s done a marvellous job of it. I thoroughly enjoyed Third Witch and recommend it to both long-term Macbeth fans and students studying Macbeth for the first time, as well as everyone in between!
Third Witch is book 48 in my 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge.