Macbeth by Jo Nesbo
Hardback: 512 pages
Published 5th April 2018
ISBN: 978- 1781090251
Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth is his contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare Project which invites current writers to update Shakespeare’s plays, setting them in modern times with modern characters.
Nesbø’s retelling sets it in the early 1970’s with the police department of a downtrodden European city taking the place of the Scottish royal court. Macbeth is the head of a SWAT team who is eager for promotion and, persuaded by his girlfriend, murders the police department’s Chief Commissioner to take over his position. He then engineers the death of anyone who suspects him of murder or endangers his position as Macbeth has no loyalty and no conscience.
Nesbø’s book (more or less) faithfully follows the trajectory of the original play, so if you’re familiar with that then you will have an idea of what happens (which may be a problem for some readers, it was for me).
This wasn’t my favourite Jo Nesbø novel as I found it very hard to get into – Shakespeare in a modern milieu can work (Baz Luhrmans Romeo + Juliet is a good example which does get around the language issues as swords and daggers are now a brand of guns). The main issue (apart from finding it somewhat too long – the play Macbeth is less than 20,000 words whilst this is over 150,000 words) is that characters who in Shakespeare you dislike but are intrigued by become rather more psychotically vicious here.