It isn’t easy to take a Shakespearean play and retell, even if it is being done loosely. Chris Adrian manages that and more with his book, “The Great Night”. I read the book in almost one sitting. It wasn’t that I was enthralled. It was just that the story was way too beautifully told for me to ignore it. I could also not read anything else while reading this one. I had to complete it.
Now to the plot: Three brokenhearted people lose their way in San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park. They are lost on a night known to the Faerie kingdom as, “The Great Night”. This is where the action unfolds. This retelling isn’t like the Shakespearean comedy. In fact, it is a tragedy. Chris Adrian has reshaped, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” into a mammoth, messy, erotic, and a feast of faeries and monsters. So these three people are lost in the park. There is a group of homeless people as well, who are rehearsing for a musical version of Soylent Green. While this counts for the mortals in the park, we then have the Faerie Queen, Titania, who is in throes of deep sorrow at the loss of her son (changeling child) to leukemia. She is inconsolable and has a spat with the King Oberon, leading to his departure from the park.
Titania wants him back and in a rage of anger, she lifts the controlling enchantment off of Puck, also known as the Beast, freeing him to wreck havoc in the park. The stipulation is clear: Nothing mundane or fantastical, gets in or out of the park when the park walls are up as created by Oberon. The three mortals are at the center of the tale: Molly, who has been recovering from the suicide of her boyfriend, Will, in love with a strange woman who dumped him a year ago, and Henry, whose compulsive habits drove his boyfriend away.
The stories are in plenty in this book. The sub-plots fascinated me even more so. Titania and Oberon are sweeping figures in the book. The grief that they go through in the book is simply stunningly written. There is a lot of chaos in this book just as it was in the play. The writing is clear in parts and not so in some other. For instance, the end was abrupt and anti-climatic. It leaves the reader hanging with no solution at all. But that is only a fragment of the book. The writing otherwise is something that is magnificent and grand.
I am happy that I read this book. There are so many interpretations of Shakespearean themes and characters, that it is always great to read another one. Some sections of, “The Great Night” are quite strong and worth reading. There is so much beauty and tragedy in the book that at times I was left speechless. A great read for me.