Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Reviews From an HBN (Ophelia - Lisa M. Klein)

He is Hamlet, Prince of Denmark; she is simply Ophelia. If you think you know their story, think again.

In this reimagining of Shakespeare's famous tragedy, it is Ophelia who takes center stage. A rowdy, motherless girl, she grows up at Elsinore Castle to become the queen's most trusted lady-in-waiting.  Ambitious for knowledge and witty as well as beautiful, Ophelia learns the ways of power in a court where nothing is as it seems. When she catches the attention of the captivating, dark-haired Prince Hamlet, their love blossoms in secret. But bloody deeds soon turn Denmark into a place of madness, and Ophelia's happiness is shattered. Ultimately, she must choose between her love for Hamlet and her own life. In desperation, Ophelia devises a treacherous plan to escape from Elsinore forever . . . with one very dangerous secret.

Lisa Klein's Ophelia tells the story of a young woman falling in love, searching for her place in the world, and finding the strength to survive.  Sharp and literary, dark and romantic, this dramatic story holds readers in its grip until the final, heartrending scene.


My big issue at the moment is trying to categorize this. Is it historical fiction? Is it mystery? Is it teen romance? Then again, it's hard trying to categorize Shakespeare, period, even if it is a retelling.

I've got a weakness for retellings, especially alternate versions of Shakespeare, so when I first saw this one I knew I had to read it. My experience with Hamlet is limited to the Lawrence Olivier film, but having loved that I was eager for more in any way I could get it. This one didn't disappoint me. Ms. Klein has done her work well, so far as I'm concerned. She begins with Ophelia's childhood and quickly establishes her as an interesting heroine, making the character her own. I found her Ophelia to be clever, resourceful, brave, a bit rebellious...a far cry from the Bard's raving, misused young girl. She was more than a match for Hamlet. In fact, he didn't deserve her. He couldn't settle on anything, he was two-faced (there was a nice detail comparing him to the two-faced god Janus), and morally corrupt. She made up her mind and held her course, using her wits and courage to escape the tragedy at Elsinore alive.

The action of Hamlet, once it reaches it, flies by pretty quickly, but I pin that down to Ophelia's minimal involvement in it all. More time is spent on her romance with Hamlet and then her exile from Denmark, and it's the last half of the book that I enjoyed the most. I hate to say much more for fear of giving it away, but it was really good!

I also have to mention Horatio. I don't remember much about him in the movie I watched, but here, he was perfect. The soul of discretion and duty, which doesn't sound all that wonderful, but his quiet manner and his friendship with Ophelia, evolving into his determination to help her flee Elsinore safely, won me over. If anything, I would have liked to see more of him, as he was a much better contender for her heart than Hamlet. *raspberry* Gertrude was almost as great, but I liked her best in her final scene in the book, saying goodbye to Ophelia. I get the sense she would have been a decent mother-in-law, but alas, this is a tragedy, after all. Sadly, my favorite characters didn't appear until the second half of the book--the half I don't want to spoil.

You know, given the scene after Polonius's death, when struck-mad-with-grief Ophelia is talking about various plants and flowers (rosemary for remembrance and pansies for thoughts), it makes perfect sense for her to be made over into an herbalist and healer. I approve!

In fact, I approve of this as a whole! I liked it even better with rereading!

Your humble book nerd,


  1. Thanks for letting me know about the book! I'm a Hamlet-freak (if the word can, indeed, be used); I , somehow, didn't like the Olivier film (except the 'To be or not to be' speech, it was brilliant). The other two films I remember are by Franco Zeffirelli and Kenneth Branagh. Helena Bonham Carter was a fantastic Ophelia!

    1. I knew Zeffirelli did a Romeo and Juliet adaptation, but I had no idea about Hamlet. I'll have to look that one up, along with the Kenneth Branagh film. I'm a huge fan of Helena!

  2. I, too, happen to be a huge fan of Helena! She is the best Ophelia in all of Hamlet's screen adaptations! Kate Winslet would be a distant second (In Branagh's film)!

    1. I could picture Kate Winslet as Ophelia before Helena, to be honest, but now I'm curious to see them both. Which version was Helena in?


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