This may come as a shock, judging by the mediocre average rating of this novel and the extremely valid 1 star reviews that top the GR page, a3.5 stars
This may come as a shock, judging by the mediocre average rating of this novel and the extremely valid 1 star reviews that top the GR page, and it certainly was a shock to me, but... I actually liked this novel. Quite a lot. Having said that, let me be clear on something: I would not recommend this novel to anyone, because all those 1 stars reviews are completely right: this is an extremely depressive novel that features what's probably one of the most disturbing, despicable and unhealthiest relationships I've read about, along with some pretty infuriating characters to boot. I can see why that wouldn't work for most readers, but, ironically, those were the things I loved the most about the novel.
Most YA retellings of classical works of fiction, - as opposed to fairy tale retellings, which give the authors a lot more room to make the stories their own -, struggle with capturing the essence that made the original a classic, like Great, most of them never actually succeed at convincing the reader of the connection between what they present and the work and author they are trying to honor, like Of Monsters and Madness, and even less do they ever manage to make a good case for the necessity of this retelling, like Thorn Abbey or Ashes on the Waves, but I actually think Hutchinson managed to do every single of these things beautifully. I honestly believe that Hutchinson captured the spirit of Shakespeare's Hamlet because she really understood the work, from the story to the characters, and portrayed them as they really are in all of their twisted glory. She didn't try to break the bones of the story to reset them into what she wanted the story to be, and she didn't reshape the characters to her convenience. She filled in the gaps in the story, rounded up the characters and brought a timeless story into our own times, but it stayed Hamlet from a different and, I would argue, necessary point of view. That is not to say that the story always worked, particularly in this setting, but Hutchinson achieved the impressive feat of capturing the essence of Hamlet and making it feel like Hamlet.
This book is told from Ophelia's point of view. We all know how this story ends, we know the events and some of us even know the monologues by heart, but all of that, in no way diminished my enjoyment of the novel or made me any less excited about reading what would happen next. The book is certainly slow and undeniably depressive. This is not an entertaining book, and definitely not a feel good novel. This is a sad, depressive, bleak work that's heartbreaking and sorrowful every step of the way. Being down in the dumps while reading this novel is not entirely optional. The book is written in such a way that it drags to down to the depths of Ophelia's despair and it is almost impossible to break from that.
This is a beautifully written novel, with a lovely, evocative and lyrical prose that I had a really hard time tearing my eyes away from, and Hutchinson put it to really good use in breathing life into Hamlet's most innocent victim: Ophelia. I felt like the really gave dimension to this character, and most importantly, managed to give her a duality that she lacked in Shakespeare's original. Here, Ophelia was no less a victim than she was in the original, but she was also not as innocent, incapable or foolish. She certainly allowed herself to be manipulated by Hamlet and her feelings for him, but there was a degree of willingness and determination from her in Hutchinson's retelling that painted the character in a new light. I really liked how Hutchinson played with Ophelia's madness and she used it to create a world of impossible things that still felt possible. I liked how the lines blurred between reality and fantasy and how that helped to create the atmosphere of the story.
The novel also attempts to give a lot more depth to the rest of the characters, which I greatly appreciated, for in Shakespeare's original there had been very little space to explore other characters besides Hamlet. Here we get a more introspective look at Gertrude, and maybe get some understanding of why she acted the way she did, even though it can't possibly excuse her, and we see more of loyal Horatio. What I liked the most about the characterization in this book is that, while it went a lot deeper than in the original, it didn't break away from the original, it didn't change the essence of the characters in any way and actually felt quite natural to them. There were a couple of characters that didn't really work for me, particularly Polonius, who felt very inconsistent in characterization and whole actions later on in the novel felt disjointed from the character he had been in the first half of the story. But mostly, the characterization really worked for me, especially Hamlet, who I felt Hutchinson captured beautifully.
There's a bit of an issue with the modern setting of the novel and the narration, dialogues and customs of the characters. This would've probably being an issue for me under other circumstances, but I honestly think it worked well here and that it was done on purpose. It will definitely feel disjointed at points, but I quite liked the juxtaposition of the modern setting with the narrative style, the dialogues and the ideals that the characters embraced. I feel like that helped to maintain the Shakespearean feeling of the novel. Had Hutchinson forsaken that and opted for a more modern style, I feel like the novel as a whole would've lost its appeal, its originality and beauty, and would've ended up being yet another Shakespeare retelling for me. That's particularly strange considering that that's the very reason why I didn't like Baz Luhrman's Romeo+Juliet, for I felt the juxtaposition in that movie grated on my nerves, but for some reason, I feel like the author made it work in this format.
I was a bit uncomfortable with the visualization of women in the novel, but, really, this is a pretty faithful Hamlet retelling, which is an appallingly sexist play all by itself, so I can't praise the faithfulness of this novel one second and then hold it against it the next. But it would also be a lie to say that this novel is sexist in its own right. Quite the contrary, actually. Hamlet's claims that his mother is a whore for marrying his uncle is about 60% of his psychological issues in the original play. If Hutchinson had done away with that, a very important aspect of his madness would've been lost. Countless books have been written about Hamlet's obsession with his mother's sexuality, hell, I wrote a freaking essay on it in one of my literature classes, so it would've done the original a disservice to ignore that part. Moreover, the novel makes it particularly clear that Hamlet is not a character whose judgement is to be trusted, for Hamlet is pretty much the pinnacle of inconsistency and selfishness. Aside from that, Ophelia's comments about being a good girl are nothing but the indoctrination forced upon her by this outdated institution that's trying to cling to the ideals of the past. Hutchinson actually makes a point out of portraying just how wrong these ideals are by mentioning several times in the novel that there's another school trying to get Elsinore Academy to change its curriculum for girls and make it as challenging as the boys so that they can grow into their own people and not somebody else's wife and support, an idea both Ophelia and Hamlet support later on in the novel.
And finally, the abusive relationship. There really isn't much I can say about this, for clearly, it is a sick a relationship as I've ever read about. Normally, this type of relationship would've immediately earned a 1 star rating, maybe a rant, but here it made sense. We are talking about classical characters who are famous for being so very fucked up. It makes sense that the author would've chosen to portray a relationship between the two about as fucked up as them, especially when one considers the fate that awaits these characters. I wouldn't have made sense for the relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet to be portrayed in any other way. And I personally never felt like the author was supporting this type of relationship, like she was trying to paint it in a positive light or to even imply that it was acceptable under any circumstances. Unlike other novels that romanticize abusive relationships, this one didn't try to surgarcoat the ugliness, didn't try to make it sexy or made the characters heroes for going along with it. On the contrary, the most sensible characters, the ones portrayed in a positive light in the novel, repeatedly told Ophelia and Hamlet just how fucked up the whole thing was, and even Hamlet and Ophelia were pretty much aware that this was horrible, that their relationship was doomed and that it was a sick, ugly thing. The novel portrayed the relationship as it was, without any discernible encouragement on its part. Not every novel that features a disturbing, abusive relationship is trying to make it out as a beautiful, positive thing, though that certainly is the tendency in YA and NA nowadays. The author makes the reader aware every step of the way that this relationship is a hideous, abusive thing that spelled the doom for the main character because she refused to walk away from it.
Okay, wow, I feel like I just wrote a thesis on this novel, so if you read this review all the way to the end, thank you for sticking with me. I just had a lot of things to say about this novel because I honestly believe Hutchinson did a fantastic job, and in light of the mediocre rating and bad reviews, I felt like I had to explain myself. This book just felt right to me. I did a wonderful job at capturing the essence of the original Hamlet, and it was honest with how it portrayed the characters and the plot. The author never tried to make out of this characters something that they were not. They were ugly, selfish, weak, cowardly and twisted beings that did ugly, selfish, weak, cowardly and twisted things to each other, and that's what makes Hamlet the classic it is, and I wholeheartedly believe that A Wounded Name succeeded in honoring Shakespeare's Hamlet just the way it deserve to be honored. ...more
A thoroughly engaging and nicely written short story that seamlessly combined well known fairy tales, like Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Be3.5 stars
A thoroughly engaging and nicely written short story that seamlessly combined well known fairy tales, like Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast and a hint of Snow White, and presented them in a very original, fascinating and beautiful way. I wish it had been longer, but still, lovely story. ...more
A very original tale that mixed folk tales with the modern world for a very quirky and enchanting result. Though I loved the general idea behind the sA very original tale that mixed folk tales with the modern world for a very quirky and enchanting result. Though I loved the general idea behind the story as well as the message that drove the ending, it felt a bit abrupt and the story deliberately moved away from what probably would've been a far more fascinating plot. A nice story, overall. ...more