What do you do with a great story that, for some, is hard to understand? Well if you are John Marsden, you take it, and mould it into a modern shape, using characters and language that teens might find more acceptable.
When we first meet Hamlet, he is kicking about with Horatio; words at first and then a football on a grassy paddock (in Denmark). The boys play about as the average teen boy might, and discuss the state of affairs of ‘Affairs of State’ – i.e. the death of Hamlet’s father and his mother’s subsequent remarriage to his uncle.
Marsden does a reasonable job of modernising the Shakespearean tale, but at times the mix falls short. It is npt always easy to accept the change of language that exists through the novel, as Marsden strives to stay true to Shakespeare while adding the modern spin. (It is as though he hadn’t decided whether to stay true to Shakespeare’s prose or totally reinterpret for the modern adolescent.)
The modern spin also adds some disturbing twists to the classic, as Hamlet displays a dark and cruel side at times. His actions in the forest, dealing with a dying badger, portray an unexpected sadistic nature. Sensual tension in Ophelia plays her as a pawn in Hamlet’s game – an object, rather than a person, in his eyes, according to Marsden.
In ‘Hamlet: a novel’, Marsden has begun an interesting appropriation of one of the great bard’s plays. The opening chapters lure with promise. But the latter scenes seem to fade to insignificance.
An interesting read nonetheless. It could be a useful introduction to the classic, and worthy of discussion about how it compares. Be careful it might even trap you into looking further into the real thing!