Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hamlet and Ophelia: A Novel by John Marsden

"What the fuck do you want?"

Australian teen writer John Marsden gives us a masterfully in-your-face prose retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet. I haven't read the original version for a few decades now, so I can't comment on how precisely Marsden's version follows it, but all the main plot points are certainly represented (murder, ghost, procrastination, madness, and a surfeit of gruesome deaths). Marsden's retelling is very accessible, but he's also made this story hot. This is a Hamlet who prowls around the castle at twilight watching women undress, and an Ophelia who imagines what Hamlet looks like naked, and moans and writhes in her bed at night. Hamlet's relationship with Ophelia is highly sexually charged, but also highly frustrated (something many teen readers will no doubt sympathize with).

And yes, something is still rotten in the state of Denmark. Treachery, corruption, and decay abound. Marsden captures the right brooding, moody atmosphere, seething with undercurrents of repressed emotion. He closely adapts much of Shakespeare's original wordplay, which adds richness to the reading experience. The juxtapositioning of these passages with Marsden's own highly contemporary style jolts the reader and adds to the story's edgy quality.

"There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio, or in mine, but somehow we are expected to make it all intelligible, to carve statues from air and books from bark. It is too much. This is the proper work of gods and we are not gods, indeed all of our human errors come from the vain belief that we are."
"Here's your ball," Horatio said.

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