Who here among us had the hots for Hamlet? Any takers? Well, allow me to raise my hand. Guilty as charged; though I should remind you that I was 17 at the time when I was introduced to Hamlet in English class. In retrospect, I don’t really know what I or Ophelia saw in Hamlet; he bitched and moaned all day long, he had a few screws loose, he robbed Ophelia of her carnal treasure and refused to marry her…wow, when I think about it, he was kind of an A-hole. But considering that most of the heartthrobs in literature—Heathcliff, Mr. Rochester, Mr. Darcy (here, he’s a gentleman in A-hole clothing)— are A-holes in one way or another, I don’t think I should be too hard on myself for my literary crush on Hamlet.
Which brings me to Ophelia by Lisa Klein, a re-imagining of the classic Shakespeare tale in the same league of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, except this is a YA novel told from, you guessed it, Ophelia’s point of view. It is assumed that in order to understand what’s going on, you should already be familiar with Shakespeare’s Hamlet (and if you are a book lover, shame on you if you are not! Shame! Get thee to Netflicks and order the definitive Kenneth Branagh version. Go to!), so you are probably wondering to yourself: “If Ophelia goes mad and drowns herself before the final act, how then can she narrate?” Well, you’ve got to ask yourself: does she really go mad? Indeed….did she really die? What ho! There’s some hanky-panky going on in the state of Denmark. But I shall stop at this because methinks I might have already given too much away.
On an entertainment level, Ophelia amuses in spades. She is not the weakling we know from the play, but rather, a well-read tomboy with a few witty remarks up her sleeves—a PC Ophelia, if you will. Despite all her rationality, she still falls for Hamlet and all is fine and dandy until the ghost appears, the shit hits the fan, and Hamlet goes bonkers (or pretends to) and the characters start dropping off like flies.
The first part of the book is very on-the-edge of your seat exciting, even though I knew the outcome, it’s still exhilarating to see the melodrama unfold from a different point of view. It’s clear that the author really knows her Shakespeare and the entire novel is a scavenger hunt for Hamlet allusions and famous quotable lines that only geeks like me who recite Shakespeare in the shower can get excited over. The only beef I have with this story is the rather anti-climatic final act; I could site a definite point where I thought the story should have ended, yet it went on for an extra fifty pages and I was like, “Alright, end already!” but the story went on and on, spanning several years and countries as Ophelia, taking Hamlet’s advise to heart, got herself to a nunnery where she dabbles in botany and witnesses a stigmata. A nunnery? There’s no hanky panky in a nunnery! Fie this!
Let not my medieval foul-mouth dissuade you from the novel. Read it. Love it. Disregard the ending.