Saturday, 10 June 2017

Review: 'Lady Macbeth: On the Couch' by Dr. Alma Bond

My passion for Shakespeare's plays, especially his history plays, is well-documented. Not only did I dedicate semesters upon semesters to him at university, I still like to reread them as well as reading adaptations for them, such as the recent, and brilliant, Miranda and Caliban. I especially love reads that attempt to dig more into the plays, explore a new angle to it or try and contextualise it to our modern world. After last August turned into a Freud-fuelled nightmare (my dissertation almost pushed me to the brink of what he would have considered normal), I wanted to leave psychoanalysis far behind me, but when I saw Lady Macbeth: On the Couch by Dr. Alma Bond I knew I wanted to give it a try. Unfortunately I ended up rather underwhelmed.

Pub. Date: 15/01/2014
Publisher: Bancroft Press
An Ancient Mystery Solved 
Scholars, professors, and historians have wondered for centuries how and why Lady Macbeth, the beautiful, beloved wife of a nobleman, had to encourage―nay, push―her husband, Prince Macbeth, to commit the ghastly crime of killing the king. 
The great Sigmund Freud himself said that nobody knows why the Lady did so. Dr. Alma Bond spent many years searching for the reason. 
Read Lady Macbeth: On the Couch to learn the answer to this ancient mystery, and to get a fascinating, first-hand look at life more than a millennium ago.

Lady Macbeth is a fascinating character, in my mind perhaps one of the most fascinating and enduringly thrilling that Shakespeare has ever written. Her interior life remains largely a mystery to the audience, while many of her lines have become iconic. Her descent into madness, her sharp words and her secrecy make her the most intriguing character in the play, perhaps aside from the three weird sisters. There is still intense debate about her request to be 'unsexed', to what extent she wants to deny her own femininity or whether there is more to it. She has been blamed wholesale for the murders in the Scottish play, while also having been excused. The one thing that has to be said for her, no matter on which side of the debate you stand, is that she is vital to the play's power. Throughout the centuries, her femininity has been sharply contrasted against her actions, casting her as an anti-mother, a witch, or simple a bitch. As such, she has attracted a lot of writing and a lot of discussion, and she is frequently reimagined on stage as well as on the screen. So of course I was hoping that Bond would add something to this debate or would make me reconsider some of the things I had previously read.

Dr. Alma Bond was a psychoanalyst before becoming an author full-time and has written a lot of books looking at historical figures from a psychoanalytical angle. These other works also include another On the Couch book, this one focusing on Jackie O. Considering this background, I was hoping, perhaps foolishly, for a decisive, in depth look at the play, perhaps even at her legacy in popular culture. However, this is very much simply an adaptation of the play, casting Lady Macbeth as the main character. Although undoubtedly well researched when it comes to Scottish traditions etc., Lady Macbeth: On the Couch doesn't really add anything new, but almost detracts from her power in the play. The novel starts of very promising, focusing on her childhood and on the dangers facing a young princess. Lady Macbeth is a headstrong child, wondering why she doesn't have as much right to an education and to fighting as the men around her. However, as we get closer to the events of the play, the novel definitely loses steam. I found Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth a lot more fascinating, perhaps because there is more mystery to her, but also because she seems more steadfast as a character. It's a shame because I really wanted to enjoy this book.

There were parts of this novel that I did really enjoy. Bond creates some beautiful images throughout the novel, and it is always interesting to read an old, familiar tale through a different viewpoint. However, and this is what saddens me the most, this novel could have done with some serious editing. There are moments where Bond repeats herself word for word, almost a paragraph at a time. Also, Lady Macbeth's emotions change very rapidly, she can be furiously angry one moment and then all is forgiven and forgotten a moment later for no apparent reason. Plot lines are started but then left hanging, and there is a sense that the Lady Macbeth Bond creates at the beginning is vastly different from the one we get at the end. And, last but not least, Lady Macbeth: On the Couch doesn't really deliver on its promise to give us a new or even a satisfyingly different answer to the question of what motivated Lady Macbeth. Perhaps to those who are novices to the debate around Lady Macbeth, this novel will hold new ideas, but for anyone who has been interested in her before, there is not much new ground covered. In fact, I even felt myself slightly insulted on Lady Macbeth's part in how Bond, occasionally, made her seem so weak and inconsistent.

I give this novel...

2 Universes!

Lady Macbeth: On the Couch started off great. I really enjoyed digging into Lady Macbeth more and Bond seemed to promise a very interesting take on her. However, eventually the book becomes very repetitive and the chance in Lady Macbeth's mind and feelings happen so swiftly the reader never really gets truly invested in them.

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