Wednesday, September 21, 2011
REVIEW: Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray
Audience: Young Adult/Teen
Genres: Realistic Fiction (Sort of)
Summary: You know the story already. Or, at least you think you do. The King of Denmark has died, and now his widow is marrying the King's smarmy brother Claudius. Hamlet, the Prince, is seeing ghosts and thinks that his father was murdered. He's acting like he's lost his mind—and maybe he has. Determined to get revenge against his father's murderer, he hatches a number of plans but he's but is paralyzed by his own inaction. Everybody dies. In this contemporary retelling, we see the story from the point of view of a teenage Ophelia. And this time she doesn't die. In fact, the entire story is told in retrospect, including transcripts from the formal investigation and from a reality show interview.
This is a very clever retelling of Shakespeare's famous play, from the P.O.V. of a character who was actually conspicuously absent through most of the original play. The plot line is pure drama—love, hate, betrayal, scandal, death, etc.—and compulsively readable. Even with all the drama, the volatile relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia is the heart of the novel. But I'd hesitate categorize the book as a romance despite the girly cover. The core relationship is borderline abusive even before all the craziness starts.
The pace is quick, and there are lots of cleverly worked-in allusions to Shakespeare's greatest lines. (Although some, like the "To be or not to be" soliloquy are disappointingly awkward when modernized.) Many of the characters gain added depth as well. The updated version of Shakespeare's Polonius, Ophelia's proverb-spouting father and a court diplomat, was particularly well done. And I loved how Ophelia's ringtone for him was "Papa Don't Preach."
All in all, I think Michelle Ray did an excellent job of modernizing the play. The intrusion of reality TV and the paparazzi added a very different—and modern—dimension to the story that made me think of the hubbub surrounding royal families today (Will & Kate, anybody?). Sometimes, though, I found the interruption of the various transcripts (mostly the reality show interview) distracting and pointless. I also wish Ophelia had had a bit more backbone. But, despite my quibbles, Falling for Hamlet was a quick, enjoyable read that I recommend to readers with a taste for scandal and drama.