Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray
Genre: Fiction, retelling, young adult, drama, well, I guess if Stephenie Meyer can get published
Rating: 2.7 out of 5 stars
Summary: In this retelling of Shakespeare’s classic play, Michelle Ray takes famously insane heroine Ophelia and sticks her in a poorly conceived version of modern day Denmark complete with a twisted royal family, weakly conceived plot and shoddy writing that will have you clamoring to watch the Mel Gibson version of Hamlet. Let the cringing begin!
One of my favorite Shakespeare plays is Hamlet, so I was super stoked when I heard a modern young adult retelling was coming out — I even pimped it in my post about upcoming novels in 2011. If only I could go back in time and take away that excitement, because despite all the mind-boggling five star reviews this novel received on Amazon, it is truly a painful piece of “literature.” Although it’s unfair to refer to it as literature, even in quotation marks when I’m pretty sure it’s just bad fanfiction.
Cassie-wa has a really awesome anecdote about Milton writing the first fanfiction when he penned — or rather had someone transcribe — Paradise Lost. Now I have read a lot of fanfiction in my time, most of it bad but a select bit of it really damn good. Unfortunately, Falling for Hamlet isn’t even boring good like Paradise Lost, nor is it good bad like less famous fanfiction. Instead, it’s merely bad. Painfully so. Having to listen to Henry Rollins’ spoken word poetry would be less painful.
The story starts off as most bad fanfiction does, with a ridiculous premise, wherein Ophelia is on a talk show telling her story to the Oprah like Zara (minus the screaming and giving away free tropical islands). Through this frame story we are introduced to Ophelia’s world, which begins before Hamlet’s father’s death by a whopping 120 pages.
Instead of living in a castle, the royal family lives in a giant building and for some reason the elevator opens directly into people’s apartments so it’s important not to pick the wrong floor. Why Ray added this detail is unclear. Regardless, it’s jarring, ridiculous, and might as well be a castle in Edoras. Factor in the fact that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are frat brothers and Hamlet goes to Wittenberg University, and you have lost my attention completely. I would rather read about a girl falling into Middle-earth.
In addition to the strange setting, the novel is full of groan worthy jokes at the expense of Hamlet. Ophelia’s favorite band is the Poor Yoricks (facepalm), her ring tone for Polonius is Papa Don’t Preach (double facepalm), she says, “goodnight, sweet prince” to Hamlet at bedtime (triple facepalm) and rather than eating at Denny’s, the characters eat at Daney’s (WHY!?! WHY!?!). The modernity is just too much. Having Ophelia referred to as “Phee” and Claudius as “the Claw” or “Claudi-ass” takes you out of the moment, and had the jokes been funny yet respectful (rather than merely stupid) they probably would have worked a lot better.
The most painful part of this retelling however comes from the way in which Ray tries to rework the most famous scenes from the classic. In Hamlet’s famous “To Be or Not to Be” speech, Ray chooses to have him write these two phrases over and over again a la The Shining’s “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” This is not the bad bit however, that comes when Hamlet starts to speak, wondering, “Is it better to suffer through life, to deal with all the crap thrown at you, or to fight against your problems by ending your life? To die is to sleep. That’s all.” Really!?! You pared down the most famous soliloquy of all time so an 8 your old could grasp it!?! Even Billy Madison could understand the original.
Another ruined scene is the one in which Hamlet threatens Ophelia and tells her to become a nun while Claudius and Polonius are eavesdropping on them. In this version, Polonius and Claudius are hiding behind the partition in a limo, and Ophelia is blackmailed into finding out information over threat of Claudius releasing a sex tape of her and Hamlet. With that in mind, Hamlet yells out, “Go become a nun, you whore!” before jumping out of the limo and running down the street toward the nearest “subway.” The line speaks for itself, but a subway!?! You’re writing about Denmark, in Denmark they have the metro, the subway is in New York. At least try to do some research.
As if it couldn’t get any worse in terms of plot, I found myself speeding toward the last pages just so the damn book would end. At this point in the narrative, Polonius has been killed by Hamlet, and Gertrude and Claudius are holding Ophelia hostage so she cannot release this information to the public. We learn that Ophelia is not crazy, but merely gets drunk off vodka and draws flowers all over Gertrude, Horatio, and Laertes because she’s a lush. She uses this to her advantage and fakes her death, hiding herself away with help from Marcellus.
Since Ophelia is supposed to be dead, Horatio video chats with her so she can watch a charity lacrosse match with Hamlet’s team versus Laertes team (who happens to be in graduate school and is therefore too old to be playing in a high school lacrosse game).
Did I mention that this lacrosse stick has a poisoned knife attached to the end of it which no one notices through the first quarter of the game? Because it does.
To make a long story short, Ophelia loses video and receives a text message from Horatio informing her: “o gd. all r dead.” There really are not enough facepalms in the world for this post. He then shows up in her hotel room to inform her how everyone and their mother died, focusing particularly on Gertrude who turned blue and foamed at the mouth, to which Ophelia replies, “Ew.”
Thankfully, there is one small redeeming quality to this novel, and it is that Ray creates a stronger, albeit a little whiny Ophelia. Whereas Bella Swan would have have forgiven Edward for killing her father, Ophelia stands her ground and escapes from the royal family. She’s not quite Daenerys Targaryen, but it’s a step in the right direction.
- Slightly stronger female character than young girls are used to (she’s no Bella — in a good way)
- Reads like bad fanfiction, DANEY’S!?! DANEY’S!?!
- Plot is far fetched and poorly executed — there are no subways in Denmark
- Shakespeare is rolling in his grave, writing seems quickly slapped together
- Ruins everything that makes Hamlet one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces
- Makes me want to watch a high school production of Hamlet
When I started this novel, I had high hopes for a fun, modern Hamlet. Sadly that was not what I got.
For much better Hamlets, I highly recommend the Hamlet in Jasper Fforde’s Something Rotten or the Hamlet in the last 20 minutes of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead. The movie didn’t make much sense as a whole — something about Horatio being a vampire and re-enacting plays of Hamlet while being hunted down by the immortal Hamlet who is pretty much Percy Blakeney with the addition of the Holy Grail. As Hamlet tells the director, “That was by far the best production I’ve seen of my life, since… Mrs. Doubtfire perhaps.”