I, Iago by Nicole Galland

3rd May 2012

*I received this book from the publisher William Morrow in coordination with TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

They called me “honest Iago” from an early age, but in Venice, this is not a compliment. It is rebuke. One does not prosper by honesty.

Othello doesn’t end well. If you are at all familiar with Shakespeare’s tragedies, you know as much. Othello is a tale of jealousy and ambition, love and passion, deception and manipulation. However, one of the most disturbing aspects of the play is Iago. Good, honest Iago. Othello’s right hand man who, when passed over for lieutenancy, determines to ruin the life of the man who has replaced him and the man who has taken his place. For someone who is called “honest” no less than 15 times over the course of the play, his actions seem a bit extreme and inexplicable.

So what does Nicole Galland bring to the story? Iago.

In a society that values artifice, Iago is a bright spot. As a young boy, stealing a legendary egg from a legendary hen, Iago and his best friend Roderigo get caught by a wealthy, influential man. When asked to explain his behavior, Iago’s honesty disarms the man and his friends. They do not expect honesty, and Iago surprises and amuses them, and he learns that though he may not be a true Venetian, he can beguile those who know him and many who do not.

Young Iago knows his place in Venetian society. His father is a silk merchant, and the family is wealthy; however, wealth alone does not bring status in Venice. His older brother will inherit the business, and Iago is expected to go into the military. His romantic spirit seeks the sea, but his father requires him to go into artillery, a more suitable place and one that will put the family in contact with more powerful people.

Iago is skillful and respected for his marksmanship and later, his swordplay. He is revered for his blunt truth telling, and the one time he does lie – about matching swords with a famous swordsman, Agrippa – he is intoxicated with his power, for the men around him believe even the most ludicrous claims because he is…honest Iago. But while Iago enjoys his reputation, he also mocks those who give it to him, and each return to Venice is more galling. He, a soldier, has no real place in society, while the Venetian upper class laze about, drinking and eating during Carnival. When he meets Emilia, a young woman who similarly spurns society and its requirements, Iago marries her, jealous of any man who looks her way.

His father’s ambition becomes Iago’s own, and as he climbs higher, he jealously guards his place of honor. Iago would not be welcome in the upper echelons of Venetian society because he is not a patrician. However, after meeting the Venetian general and Moor Othello and becoming his confidant, Iago finds many doors open to him. It’s intoxicating and heady, and just as his jealousy shows in his relations with his wife, so too does Iago become fiercely protective of his relationship with Othello, desiring to be his most trusted friend and colleague, Othello’s ensign, the honest Iago.

And Iago certainly stores up his untruths, so that when unleashed, they cause a horrific amount of damage, much more than the patricians or merchants of Venice of whom he is so critical. Once Iago realizes the true power he holds precisely because he is known to be so honest, he takes full advantage, understanding that his honesty has given him power over those who hold him dear.

Watching Iago’s duplicity and jealousy take hold of him is disturbing, and though if you’ve read Othello the action won’t surprise you, the change in Iago will. In case you don’t know the story of Othello, I won’t ruin it, but there is a crucial moment between Iago and Emelia at the end of the play that the novel teases out beautifully.

I, Iago is incredibly well written and researched, and Galland gives Iago the life, personality, and motivation he seems to lack in Othello, so much so that I was dreading the moment when Othello names Cassio as lieutenant and hoped, somehow, that Iago would go back to the straight and narrow and remain honest Iago in the end.

Alas, it is not to be.

*****

If you’d like to see other reviews of I, Iago by Nicole Galland, follow the rest of the TLC Tour here.

Read the full text of Othello by William Shakespeare here.

  • Marg

    I am having to rethink my attitudes towards this book. I have read one by her previously that I didn’t like, but there do seem to be a lot of good reviews of this one!

    • I took a Shakespeare course once upon a time, and though reading all his plays was overwhelming, it also gave me a great appreciation of his work. Othello has long fascinated me, and this book was really, really good. Out of curiosity, what did you not like in the other book?

  • Great review. I was *so* hoping for a change in the story as the end approached, even though I know the draw of the novel was to see Iago as Shakespeare’s Iago — I still wanted, somehow, for the universe to change and for Iago to return to the Iago we met earlier. I was captivated — heartbroken — …!

    • Thanks, Audra. I definitely felt that. I loved his character. I loved his voice. As that change happens, it was *almost* unbelievable. But those are the moments Shakespeare is so good at playing out – the absolute worst part of human nature working on us.

      • Whoops. Hit send too soon.

        It isn’t unbelievable because it happens every day. Good, honest people doing despicable things. And worse, feeling justified in doing them.

        • Exactly! Iago went from sort of a flat villain (however complicated his crimes, I just sort of felt ambigu-dislike for him) to someone I could know, I empathised with, and then … yeah. The betrayal felt especially huge. What happened with Emilia felt even worse for me — I teared, hardcore.

          • That’s the moment I was referring to in the review. That passage is so incredible and broke my heart, as did the ending passages about how he and Othello still have that connection, even though everything else is broken.

          • Dear Jenn and Audra – I can’t tell you how satisfying this exchange is to me, you have alighted exactly on the moment/element that compelled me to write the novel (particularly regarding Emilia). I am so grateful that the book spoke to you as I hoped it would.

          • Nicole – loved it. Loved just about everything about it. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  • Andi

    It’s waiting patiently on my wishlist!

    • Well, you have to get through your Outlander obsession first. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • I honestly hoped for the same thing – I really wanted Iago to go back to being honest Iago and not let the demons inside get him. I think that speaks very well to Galland’s skill. I knew it was going to happen, I could see the groundwork, but still … he was a person here.

    • Yes. That was definitely this novel’s strength. It characterized him and made him something more than a villain because the play honestly doesn’t, but you know more is there simply by the way people take him at face value and call him “honest” again and again.

  • I’m hearing great things about this book and it has me worried – I’m so sure of my hatred for Iago from reading Othello that I’m worried I’ll actually start to like him after reading this new book … ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks for being on the tour – I’m so glad this book was a hit for you!

    • Heather – Give in. It’s worth it. You can’t help but like Iago.

      And honestly, he’s like a totally different person from what you know from the play.

      Thanks for having me on the tour!

  • Pingback: Nicole Galland, author of I, Iago, on tour April/May 2012 | TLC Book Tours()