Tuesday 2 April 2019

Gap year nanny series: Shakespeare now!

Gap year nanny series: Shakespeare now! by Goldie Alexander (Five Senses Education)  PB RRP $34.95  ISBN 9781760322601

Reviewed by Claire Stuckey

Merri Attwater is in her gap year. She lives in Melbourne looking for work to earn money not only for herself but her struggling family.  She finds a job as a nanny with the Macbeth family who live in Glamis, an enormous walled mansion with two other staff. The three children, Merri's new charges, are scheduled to have activities throughout the day by a mother determined that they have every advantage and skill. 

Pushed with odd jobs in the few breaks between activities, Merri quickly discovers Mrs Macbeth's real personality. She also meets Mr Macbeth on his brief home stays between international travel and important business meetings for a large company started by Duncan. Merri is awestruck at the handsome and kind Stuart Macbeth forcing her to question her one long and close relationship with her girlfriend Mica.

After settling in to the Macbeth household, Merri feels confident to end her gay relationship, join a sporting team and establish new friendship away from her difficult home life and the Macbeths. Over the months she becomes a listener, someone Stuart can debrief with while Mrs Macbeth increases her efforts to increase their wealth and prestige. Stuart has been persuaded to listen to the internet Gurus by his wife.  The negative influence of the gurus further corrupts his principles. Once he has outed Duncan as CEO, Stuart Macbeth struggles with the politics and personal pressures on the team that once made the business successful. Greed, power and paranoia slowly take their toll mentally and physically on both Stuart and Laura Macbeth which finally leads to the marriage breakdown.   

In contrast, Merri finds confidence in her role as nanny establishing positive friendships with the children and her new social group, even updating her appearance.
With the business failing and colleagues arrested, Stuart is despondent and facing court. Laura's ultimate breakdown is tempered by Merri's quick thinking. Mrs Macbeth finds a new man and Merri is asked to stay, but with a new love interest and a focus on the future, Merri looks forward to university and a positive future.

This story is adapted from the play Macbeth, a Shakespearean tragedy. Gap Year has contemporary characters who exhibit the same positive and negative human characteristics as defined in the original version.  In building the modern narrative, Goldie Alexander has brought to life characters that we can understand and respond to. Merri is a likeable, young woman and we empathise with her problems, youthful traits and enthusiasm. We feel the confusion when she falls for Stuart Macbeth and the unfairness at her treatment by Laura Macbeth. Her blossoming as an adult contrasts with the downfall of the couple tainted by their greed and corruption.  It is the juxtaposition that makes this a great readable story.

Will current English students want to read this to enhance or explain the original text? I don't know: many are time-poor and additional reading is not popular.  But as a reader, I was happy to go on the journey with Merri and although I knew the ending, I was happy for the characters to take me there.

My only negative comment was the Wikipedia summary at the rear of the book.  A more educational source would have been preferable. I note that other adaptations in the series conclude with teachers’ notes.

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