Monday, November 2, 2009Hamlet's father has died and his mother quickly remarries. One cold night he is roused from his sleep by Horatio and Bernardo who claim that the have seen the ghost of Hamlet's father walking the grounds. The drag Hamlet from his bed to encounter the spirit, seeming indeed to be that of his father, who claims to have been murdered by the very man who has claimed the crown and married Hamlet's mother - Hamlet's uncle and his father's own brother!
This claim of foul play settles darkly in Hamlet's mind and over time he becomes more greatly disturbed. He knows he must seek revenge for his father's death, but can he do so without bringing tragedy upon all those around him, including himself?
John Marsden was one of the authors who influenced me the most throughout my teen years. When I heard that he had dared to tackle a retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet I knew that I had to at least give it a go.
I am afraid that I have not read Shakespeare's original or seen it performed (I do not think that the Simpsons version counts!) to be able to say how closely Marsden has followed the story as it was first told by the Bard, what lines or scenes have been kept, changed, moved around, or discarded entirely.
Marsden's attempting to make the story more contemporary has resulted in an uncomfortable sense that the setting and speech is disjointed in time. It was as though Marsden himself could not decide whether or not he wanted us to believe if the story was set in the past or in modern day. Unfortunately, this inconsistant shift back and forth between modern speech and lines closer to that of Shakespeare's own, the shifting modes of dress with Hamlet even wearing jeans at one point in the novel, are ultimately the novels downfall. This inconsistency left me with a sense of unease throughout so that I could not enjoy what would otherwise have been an excellent retelling.
Time confusion aside, Hamlet is written in Marsden's usual style that I associate with him, flowing with ease on the pages and I read through all 228 pages in just a few hours. Being one of Australia's best YA authors, Marsden takes Hamlet and creates a tale of teenage torment and angst and sexuality. A few odd moments aside, that is. Was the line "He found a lavatory and sat on it emptying his bowls in an exhausted rush" really something that I had to read?
If only Marsden had been consistent in contemporising Hamlet it surely would have been excellent. It seems that Marsden is at his best when his writings are entirely of his own creation rather than having to deal with the rules set when playing in another persons sandbox. As it stands, I would say that Marsden's Hamlet is still a good way to introduce the resistant student to Shakespeare (and surely with Marsden's history in education this is what he had in mind,) but it is disappointing in the knowledge that, coming from such a seasoned author, Hamlet: a novel could have been so much better.