“Well, Strega,” he said. “Do you think the seed we sowed in Macbeth will grow?”
“Let’s hope so.”
“They’re thistles. They can’t help themselves. They’re evil and foolish. If people see the soothsayer’s first prophecy fulfilled they’ll believe the next one blindly. And now Macbeth has found out he’s the new head of Organised Crime. The only question is whether Macbeth has enough of the thistle’s ambition in him. And the necessary cruelty to go the whole way.”
“Macbeth doesn’t,” Hecate said. “But she does.”
“Lady, his beloved dominatrix. I’ve never met her, yet I know her innermost secrets and understand her better than I understand you, Strega. All Lady needs is time to reach the inescapable conclusion. Believe me.”
“The Duncan has to be get rid of.”
“Then,” Hecate said, tapping his stick on the ground, tap tap. “The good times will roll again.”
“Are you sure we can control Macbeth? Now he’s clean he’s probably… moralistic, isn’t he?”
“My dear Strega, the only person more predicable than a junkie or a moralist is a love-smitten junkie and moralist.”
I was having some trouble getting into the book right up until the above quote appeared, and then I could plough myself right into it. What a great reimagining of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Being a big fan of Macbeth and having seen all the great film adaptations like Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957) and Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool (2003), I sought out Jo Nesbø’s Macbeth, a worthy contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare Project. I have read Nesbø’s Harry Hole series and he is definitely an inspired choice.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth is timeless and its themes of good versus evil, dangers of ambition, influence of supernatural forces, loyalty and guilt still ring emphatically true in our present time. One just need to open the daily papers to see evidence of people trapped in the endless cycle of power and greed. IMHO Macbeth also has the Mother of all twists, not one, but three.
The genius of Nesbø’s retelling is that you don’t even need to know the story of Shakespeare’s Macbeth to appreciate the story. It’s a blood-soaked smorgasbord of human depravity. There are good people, but they are outnumbered by the evil ones, ten to one. Nesbø situates the story in a gloomy town in Norway with almost everyone on the fringe of losing their morality. Drugs and crime rule the town in a deplorable state of moral decay. It is a story of cops versus criminals. Duncan is the Chief Commissioner of Police, Macbeth is the leader of the SWAT team and other familiar names play roles on both sides of the law, staying true to their originals.
Even though I said that one doesn’t need to know Shakespeare’s Macbeth to appreciate this noir-ish tale, but if you are a fan you are in for a superb time. Nesbø uses the framework, but he totally made it his own tale with different takes. The trainspotting element put a big smile on my face and some of them are so cleverly conceived.
That said, I did find it a chore to read in the beginning because there are so many characters with different agendas and the long passages of exposition was a pain to get through. It was also too lengthy at over 600 pages. For me, once I hit the chapter with the clever dialogue between two criminals with regard to Macbeth and Lady, I was hooked. Personally, transposing Shakespeare’s setting to a bleak town ridden by crime, drugs and corruption works like a song. Shakespeare would have been proud.
**** / 5