Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Falling for Hamlet

Ray, Michelle. Falling for Hamlet. New York: Poppy - Hatchette Book Group, 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Not too long ago in modern-day Denmark, there was a prince. He was handsome and smart and, of course, very charming. His girlfriend, a beautiful media darling, was the daughter of a palace adviser, and together they tried to live normal happy lives while their faces smiled out from grocery store magazine racks. Then the unthinkable happened. The king, the prince's father, died. And our sweet prince lost it, falling into grief and paranoia, and leaving his beautiful girlfriend to fend for herself among the wolves, both inside the palace and out.

Let me start by saying that you should not judge this book by its cover. Or by its opening lines:
"Frailty, thy name is woman." - William Shakespeare
"Willy, thy name is sexism." - Ophelia
Don't get me wrong, both have very much to do with the story (other than Hamlet's hair color on the cover), but they really make this look like a much lighter, funnier, beach read kind of book than it really is. I mean, really, how would one make an adaption of Hamlet light? Instead, this book is everything it should be; it's brooding and dark and, at times, intense. It's also narrated by a strong Ophelia who is understandably worried (and sometimes so tired/drunk she's a bit loopy - how else could one explain the flower scene) about her boyfriend's apparent loss of sanity but who also does her best to be supportive and helpful to those around her, especially her aforementioned boyfriend and her widower father, all while trying to keep her own life together in the midst of circumstances no high school senior should have to deal with. She is so at odds with both the classic and modern versions of how we usually see the character of Ophelia. I loved it.

The story stays pretty true to the original, with one major difference that is given away on the jacket flap: Ophelia survives. The motivations behind people's actions, however, are different. The "truth," what Ophelia is telling us the readers, is book-ended by Ophelia's tell-all appearance on fake-Danish-Oprah in the beginning of each chapter and her interrogation by the Danish police at the end. These three concurrent tellings of the same story, illustrate the fabrication of what we take for "fact" from the media and the reach of a government cover-up more explicitly than that paparazzi pic on the cover ever could. On faux-prah, Ophelia is sweet, in love, heart-broken, and kind of ditzy. She's the almost princess. While being interrogated, she is bitingly sarcastic, angry, and fiercely loyal to Horatio and Marcellus, the only other people to survive the bloodbath that is this story. She's accused of being the master-mind of a plot to overthrow the Danish monarchy. In between, she's just a girl doing her best to do what's right for herself and those she loves.

Really and truly, I loved this book. It sucked me into the story and kept me on the edge of my seat even though I knew, more or less, what was going to happen. The characters were well-rounded and real in ways that Shakespeare characters usually are not. I cried when the king died. Have you ever cared about Hamlet's dad enough to even care that he's dead? I haven't. And Hamlet himself made a bit more sense, not a lot, but a bit. Giving him a happy background with Ophelia, at least in flashbacks, made their whole relationship much more believable which made it all the more crushing when he becomes cruel. Michelle Ray has managed to take a story that I already knew well and liked, and she made it into something new and original that I love. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.

Falling for Hamlet comes out July 5th!

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher.

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anachronist said...

I don't know. I've read several reviews of this one and the cover makes me squirm - an Ophelia showing you buttock cheeks?- honestly, not the way to entice me. Not with Hamlet.

Lawral the Librarian said...

I know. That cover is pretty horrible. I think the worst thing about it is that it's going to attract readers who want a fun n' flirty book, who are going to be disappointed, and it's going to embarrass readers who are looking for a modern-day Hamlet. Hopefully they'll fix it for the paperback!