Howard Jacobson, the well-known author of novels about English Jews and English anti-Semitism, has retold Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and set it in 21st-century Britain. In Shylock Is My Name, writes Adam Kirsch in his review, Jacobson has masterfully recast the story, using it to probe both anti-Semitism and Jewish fears:
At the same time that [the wealthy Jewish art collector Simon] Strulovich represents Shylock, however, he also meets Shylock—the real Shylock, still inexplicably alive after 400 years, whom he first encounters in a Jewish cemetery. In this way, Jacobson combines Shylock with yet another Jewish archetype—the Wandering Jew, unable to die, doomed to spend eternity roaming the earth. Soon Shylock is Strulovich’s houseguest, advising him on how to deal with his daughter, as the course of Strulovich’s life increasingly resembles that of Shylock’s own. . . .
In developing this plot, Jacobson combines silliness with satire. He allows his depiction of the story’s Gentile characters to be invaded by a very Shylockian anger—at their heedlessness, their selfishness, their affectation, their casual anti-Semitism. Portia is the idealized heroine of Merchant of Venice, but in the novel, Plurabelle is a monster of entitlement and vulgarity—deformed by plastic surgery, enjoying the bogus fame of a reality TV star. . . . In one scene, Plury, as her friends call her, and D’Anton [the equivalent of Shakespeare’s Antonio] play a game called Jewepithets, in which they come up with increasingly insulting names for Jews—“the Hebrew,” “the moneybags,” “the inexecrable dog.” It is a Jewish paranoid fantasy of how non-Jews talk behind closed doors, and Jacobson’s portrait of the whole English Gentile world is informed by this kind of consciously overblown yet inescapable paranoia.