Sunday, March 7, 2010

Hamlet: A Novel

Marsden, John.  Hamlet: A Novel.  Somerville, Mass. : Candlewick Press, 2009. ISBN: 9780763644512 $16.99.
(Image Credit: Cape May County Library)

Before I go into my view of this book, I think it is a huge undertaking to try and novelize a tragic Shakespearean play.  That said, James Marsden tries to breathe new life into a 400-year-old Hamlet.  The novel starts out strong, giving life to the characters of Elsinore.  He makes Hamlet and his best friend, Horatio, relatable as they discuss the recent death of Hamlet's father, the King of Denmark, as well as the recent marriage of his mother to his uncle.  Hamlet is full of rage.  His prose is peppered with anger, confusion, and sarcasm.   To many of those around him, Hamlet seems to be slowly losing his senses, but underneath his twisted words he often speaks a truth that many would not be willing to speak about. 

Hamlet is not alone in his doubts over his mother's marriage to his uncle, two months after his father's death.  Most of the royal court does not know how to handle the change.  Hamlet no longer trusts his father's old advisers, such a Polonius.  He doubts the motives of all that surround him, yet he cannot find proof to support his thoughts.  That is, until he is visited by the ghost of his father, who reveals to Hamlet that he was murdered by his brother, Hamlet's uncle, and his current step-father.

While exploring the idea of revenge, Hamlet's actions begin a downward spiral that effect of those who closely surround him.  Without considering the price he would pay for murdering his uncle, Hamlet lets the idea of revenge consume him.  With a cloudy vision and a hateful heart, he takes actions that cannot be undone nor mended.  Soon those that mean the most to Hamlet will fall.  Yet, once the circumstances have been set forth and actions taken, there is no way to take them back.

Overall, Hamlet: A Novel tries to make a complicated play relatable to a modern audience.  Marsden starts off with a strong interpretation of Shakespeare's vision, but he also tries to spice up the novel in areas that do not seem to fit.  Although the novel begins well, I also felt that the ending was a bit rushed.  In the beginning of the tale there were often some details that, I felt, were unecessary, as well as somewhat haphazard.  Marsden tried to make the tale of Hamlet more sexual.  He would use scenes of sexuality that, I believe, were meant to support the confusion Hamlet had about himself; however, they did not flow with the text.  They seemed to be more small shots of sexuality that did not quite fit the rest of the novel.  Overall, the were fractured pieces of descriptive information.  I also would go so far as to think that the as the beginning of the novel started out with unecessary details, the end of the novel was equally lacking important descriptions.  In the places where I thought the author could expand dialogue and narrative, he did not.  The end of the novel felt rushed and incomplete.

Hamlet: A Novel would be a good read for someone who wants to become familiar with the play, but does not want to spend the time deciphering Shakespeare's complicated prose and vocabulary.  In fact, for a teenager, this book could be a good starting point to get the gist of the tale, and then re-read the actual play.   The novel does give an overall description of Shakespeare's version, but in order to truly appreciate the tale, I believe it is equally necessary to read the original work. 

John Marsden is a best-selling author who has penned over thirty novels, including the popular Tomorrow Series and the Ellie Chronicles.