November 30, 2006

Alas for the Drowned Ophelia... who lived.

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.

Shakespeare purists may be testy at the temerity of a writer to rewrite part of Hamlet, but Lisa Klein's new novel, Ophelia, accomplishes something the Bard forgot to do -- create a believable female character in Ophelia. Without detracting from the play, Klein fills in the outlines of Ophelia's life -- beyond what was portrayed as her madness, she is given the existence of any other medieval girl, and richly imbued with personality. Ophelia worships, works and wonders at life around her -- the politics in the palace, the faithlessness of her father and brother, the follies of romance. As she moves in secret as Hamlet's beloved, then as his secret wife, we are allowed a more complete view of the story the Bard only hinted at within the play. In grave danger, Ophelia does the only thing she can to save herself -- she goes mad.

Another view is given of Ophelia's brother, Laertes, and her social-climbing, proverb-spouting father, Polonious. Even Horatio, Hamlet's faithful friend, is granted a reprieve from simply being the last one standing to being a whole person. Ophelia gets herself to a nunnery, as suggested, and her life there is told simply and beautifully. With an eye to the religiosity of the age, Ophelia's life amongst the nuns has to it an air of simplicity yet historical truth, as the cloister was often the place of most freedom for medieval women during this time. As Ophelia learns to blossom in this severe place, she finds her grown-up self to be stronger than she first believed.

This is a romance without pretending to be anything less than an homage to Shakespeare, Hamlet, and Ophelia as a struggling young woman. Recommended for those who love Shakespeare, and those who wish a better understanding of his work.

1 comment:

a. fortis said...

Yay! I like the sound of this one. One of my favorite plays is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (the movie's good, too).