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Monday, February 20, 2012

Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray

I have carefully avoided reading any of the countless retellings of famous books. I didn't read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I find that when I have read a retelling, even in my favorite romance setting, I find myself too distracted by looking for the parallel story to really enjoy the story. So when Janssen's Best of 2011 list included  Falling for Hamlet I was nervous. I told myself that it was ok, since I've never actually read Hamlet , I wouldn't really have the same problem. (Yes, true. I'd rather not read than read a play.)

Falling for Hamlet is, of course, a modern retelling. Told from Ophelia's point of view, the book attempts to follow Hamlet's decline into madness after the death of his father. Since I haven't read the original, I'd have a hard time telling you how perfectly it achieves this, but I can tell you that it's pretty obviously a retelling and not a completely original book. Some of the parts of the play are just too hard to modernize, and the famous lines don't always blend seamlessly. I found myself reading it with a bit of unease- since I didn't know the ending of the play, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. As I write that now in this review, I think perhaps it means that the author did a good job, but at the time it was a bit annoying. I also found myself wishing for a happy ended, but I knew enough to know that I wasn't likely to get one at all, let alone a romantic one.

Ophelia is such a smart character, and also, such a teenage girl. She recognizes that her head and heart are leading her different places, even though she still struggles. She chafes with her dad's rules and guidances, but still loves and cherishes him. When it all goes badly at the end, she's smart enough to do what she needs to do, so as not to turn into the villian. She's a bit naive about what can be accomplished with modern technology and at times I wondered how she didn't expect there to be cell phone pictures of her everywhere.

I'm not sure how I feel about Hamlet. From what I've read since I finished the book, we should dislike Hamlet and be horrified by his descent into madness, but in this book you were really torn. You could see the crazy happening, but you kept hoping he'd pull out of it. I'm guessing if you'd read the original you might approach him a bit differently.

I also enjoyed the author's note at the end, where she explained how she came to be inspired to write it, and her honest advice to watch a movie version instead of trying to pick up the play.  I also wish I had tried to read them side by side, or maybe just the cliff's notes version, so I had the comparison. I took her advice, and rented this version of the movie from my library. (This was the only one on the shelf.) I'm not sure how I feel about such a direct retelling of a classic (I think I do enjoy very vague ones, probably since I don't usually recognize them as such), but I do know that my reading experience and Janssen's were likely very different simply because I hadn't read the play. Did it make  me dislike the book? No, not at all, but the experience was not likely the same.

(With this book I've read 4 of Janssen's 12 favorites! One third of the way to a competed goal!)


  1. I don't remember reading Hamlet, and don't know the story either. I'm not sure why, but this doesn't really appeal to me.

  2. I'm glad you liked it, even if it was out of your comfort zone.

    Have I mentioned how FLATTERING it is that you're reading all my favorite books?

  3. Interesting that even though you didn't know the original story, it was still gnawing at you from the background. I've never actually read the play but I have seen several movie versions. I don't usually do the spinoffs either so I'm not sure this is one that would work for me.

  4. There are lots of retellings of Shakespeare plays that you read and watch and don't even know it...

  5. Did you know that Sons of Anarchy is based on Hamlet? Makes me feel a little bit better about watching. Just a little bit. ;)


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