Lear: The Shakespeare Company Plays Lear at Babylon

Mike Johnson

LEAR COMP 2.jpg

Genre: Dystopian

 

A plague driven band of vagabonds and beggars, calling themselves The Shakespeare Company, arrive at the decaying little town of Babylon, where they perform King Lear in a whirl of mayhem and madness. As the night proceeds, they spin out of control, embodied by their roles.

Narrated by the girl Curan, a minor character, this novel is part black comedy, part tragedy, part carnival, and implicitly dystopian. It is a bizarre and disturbing novel of a plague society in social and moray decay. A novel that challenges the reader at every turn.

Erotic, eerie and disturbing, Johnson's novel reinvents the emotional dynamic of Shakespeare's play, as in a distorted mirror. It does not, however, require knowledge of the play to work it's magic as a piece of fiction.

‘Johnson makes an original contribution to the literature of disaster, and certainly to the nation's literature that still struggles beneath the mantle of social realism; he does it by the sheer intensity of his poetic vision, combined with an adroit meta-fictional sense... 

In this fallen world, does falling matter? Johnson’s novel is an exuberant, artful meditation on this question…' David Dowling, Landfall.

‘He has achieved a kind of ‘worldmaking’ that confirms his position as one of New Zealand’s most important fiction writers.’  Jody Dalgleish, on the novel Travesty, Landfall.

‘One of the most innovative, original and fearless writers I know.’ Witi Ihimaera, on the novel Stench.


99% Press has the pleasure of reprinting Mike Johnson’s Lear, The Shakespeare co..., a forgotten classic of New Zealand literature, published in 1986. One of New Zealand’s first post-apocalyptic novels, Lear was shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards and earned Johnson a Literary Fellowship at the University of Canterbury in 1987. The novel garnished much critical praise, particularly for its verbal texture. In Landfall, critic David Dowling commented, "Johnson makes an original contribution to the literature of disaster, and certainly to the nation's literature that still struggles beneath the mantel of social realism; he does it by the sheer intensity of his poetic vision, combined with an adroit metafictional sense... In this fallen world, does falling matter? Johnson's novel is an exuberant, artful meditation of this question.’

In this novel a ragtag group of players arrive in a decaying village called Babylon where they attempt to stage Shakespeare’s King Lear in return for food and lodgings. Their efforts are both terrifying and hilarious as the characters get taken over by their roles, and the performance falls to pieces. No special knowledge of Shakespeare’s play in required, and Johnson’s luminous prose has hardly aged. Here is a novel which feels like it was written yesterday, as if it is the world itself that has had to catch up with this compelling work of fiction. This reprint features a stunning cover design by Jennifer Rackham, but the text itself has not been altered.