Guest post: Nicole Galland, author of I, Iago
I’ve been chatting with Nicole Galland, the author of I, Iago, via email for a little while and I told her that I really don’t know anything about Shakespeare. She said it’s not necessary to be familiar with Shakespeare’s work before reading hers and that she’d love to have her work be judged on its own merit rather than being compared to the original. When I invited her to write a guest post, she happily agreed. I’d like to thank Nicole for this deeply personal post. I think you’ll enjoy it.
The story behind the story behind the story of I, IAGO by Nicole Galland
This is, for me, an unusually personal blog post, in ways that won’t be obvious at once.
My novel I, Iago is a take on Shakespeare’s magnificent Othello. Therefore when talking about the novel, I find it helps to say a little something about the play. In brief: Othello, his bride Desdemona, and several other characters meet dreadful fates because Ensign Iago – trusted and beloved by Othello – viciously, cleverly destroys everybody’s lives as revenge for having lost a job promotion.
The story behind the story:
Having alluded to the plot of the original, I usually then explain what compelled me to write the story from Iago’s point of view. This is what I tell people in interviews, in the extra material at the back of the book, at readings.
In brief: we were staging a reading of Othello, and the actor we’d asked to play Iago showed up admitting he had never read the play – and did not know the character. After recovering from his confession, I suggested we read through the script together and discuss it. He and I worked very long and late, contemplating Iago, his motivations, his character. Then we performed it, script-in-hand, for two performances. He was a fabulous Iago, but we had really only scratched the surface, and suddenly the show was over. I could not stop pondering all the elements of Iago’s personality, and found myself thinking about them obsessively . . . until one day I had an epiphany, understood the whole story with Iago as the protagonist, not antagonist, and started to write the novel.
The story behind the story behind the story:
This is the part I usually demur from mentioning.
My interest in Iago’s character was not just artistic – it was personal, almost to the point of panic. Here was a man who practiced psychological violence on people who trusted him completely, and I was staving off some psychological violence myself at the time.
Nearly a dozen friends and family had delicately expressed concerns about my husband’s behavior toward me. I defended him to them (a common behavior in emotionally abusive relationships) but privately, I was desperate to understand why he had changed from a loving partner to somebody so unkind that his own mother fretted publicly about his treatment of me. If only I could understand, I thought, then I could fix things and he would be nice to me again.
At a certain point during the rehearsal, the actor playing Iago said, “I don’t think Iago’s evil, I just think maybe he has so much self-loathing that he projects it outward toward the people he is closest to, and loathes them instead.”
After rehearsal I was talking to one of the other actors, who was a close friend. This friend expressed dismay – very carefully and respectfully – about the clearly worsening dynamic between my husband and myself.
“I don’t think he’s evil or anything,” said the friend. “But I think he suffers from self-loathing, so much so that he’s projecting it onto you.”
Hadn’t I just heard that?
And so, after the play was finished, all those hours I spent trying to get inside Iago’s head, I had a personal investment in what I’d find there. I was trying to understand how somebody I loved and trusted could develop such a need to hurt me – as Iago had hurt those who trusted him. I was hoping that understanding Iago would help me understand my situation. That somehow, magically, I could discover a way to save Iago from himself and that would show me how to save my marriage.
That did not – could not – happen. I found insights into Iago – enough to remind me that Iago and my husband were not the same person. And this was a good thing – Iago, as a fictional character, could be brought to term. In wrangling with his demons, I could make the rules, I could ask and answer all the questions – unlike in my crumbling marriage, in which I had no say at all, and no power to help my husband with whatever his demons were.
My imaginary conversations with Iago became no longer the means to save my marriage, but the means to survive the psychological chaos of its inevitable demise. I could make no sense of my husband, but I could make sense of Iago. I could, and did, humanize him. The creation of his story balanced out the destruction of my own. It was a kind of alchemy. It healed me.
I, Iago was published by Harper Collins on April 24.
From earliest childhood, the precocious boy called Iago had inconvenient tendencies toward honesty—a failing that made him an embarrassment to his family and an outcast in the corrupt culture of glittering Renaissance Venice. Embracing military life as an antidote to the frippery of Venetian society, Iago won the love of the beautiful Emilia and the regard of Venice’s revered General Othello. After years of abuse and rejection, Iago was poised to achieve everything he had ever fought for and dreamed of . . .
But a cascade of unexpected deceptions propels him on a catastrophic quest for righteous vengeance, contorting his moral compass until he has betrayed his closest friends and family, and sealed his own fate as one of the most notorious villains of all time.
Inspired by William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Othello—a timeless tale of friendship and treachery, love and jealousy—Galland’s I, Iago sheds fascinating new light on a complex soul, and on the conditions and fateful events that helped to create a monster.
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