Ophelia by Lisa M Klein

by Kat Alexander

Everybody knows Hamlet. Even if one doesn’t think they know Hamlet, one probably does. To be or not to be? Ringing a bell? Yes, that is Hamlet, that is Shakespeare.

With all of these people quoting her sort-of boyfriend, one’d think that Ophelia would get her share of the limelight. Maybe not in the play, but with Ophelia: a novel, she does–all three hundred pages of her share of the limelight. Let me be clear, this is in no way your average retelling of Hamlet–the tall dark and handsome prince spends much of his story somewhere, anywhere else. In fact, I was a little surprised by how little of Hamlet’s story overlaps with Ophelia’s.

This is not Hamlet’s story, after all, but still.

I went back and forth for much of the book trying to decide whether I loved it or hated it, honestly. I couldn’t decide whether it was so close to Hamlet that I had to adore it, or so far that I was amazed it passed as a retelling. Much goes on behind the curtain, evidently; even more than I’d already assumed just from reading and watching the play.

On its own, without thinking about Hamlet, it’s a decent enough book. It’s written in a distinctly Ye Olde Writing style, though not completely incomprehensible like some true Ye Olde Writing (Shakespeare, I am looking at you). Some things come out sounding truly sharp, witty and/or poetic…but at other times, it seems the painfully obvious keeps being expounded because Ophelia cannot grasp the concept of show, don’t tell. The plot moves along sluggishly at times, but the book really does cover a lot of ground; years and years of Ophelia’s life before and after what is contained within Hamlet.

Indeed, I think it was after it moved out of Hamlet and into just Ophelia that it really got good. I’m not a big fan of this Ophelia with Hamlet, really. Ophelia on her own, though, tells a pretty interesting story, showing a huge amount of creativity on the part of the writer. Really, it’s part three that’s the best–if you can hold out that far.

Overall, I’ve got mixed feelings. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m first and foremost a fan of the original, but I feel the author could have dwelled more on exploring and deciphering Hamlet’s psyche, the strange behaviors and madness that Ophelia never seems to quite understand. It has its great moments, and I think I may be biased, but that’s not stopping me from giving it 3 1/2 stars–a valiant attempt, but a little weak.

Kat Alexander is a Figment Reviewer who (clearly) loves to read and comment. She’s active on a number of sites including NaNo, Fiction Press, and FanFiction under aneko24.

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