The Wife of Willesden

Penguin Books. Feb. 2023. 208p. ISBN 9780593653739. pap. $16. DRAMA
Smith, the award-winning novelist (Swing Time) and essayist (Imitations), has written her first play—a modern, innovative reinterpretation and reimagining of the 14th-century Middle English “Wife of Bath’s Tale” from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Following the structure and poetic meter of the original (with “prologue,” “tale,” and “retraction”) Smith has transformed the original Alysoun to the vibrant, Jamaican-born Alvita, whose uncompromising perspective on marriage, sex, and relationships between the sexes comprise this ingenious, short, and energy-filled play. As with Chaucer’s authoritative narration of her tale, Alvita, too, is a natural talker who speaks from the authority that comes from experience. Set in Northwest London, Alvita, married five times, tells her story in a pub. The story she chooses is set in 18th-century Jamaica, where a young man who rapes a young girl can avoid the death sentence if he can determine what women want.
VERDICT A triumph of dramatic creativity, this slim volume is a total delight. Highly recommended.
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