Thursday, 25 September 2008

Hamlet: a novel, by John Marsden

Hamlet: a novel John Marsden, Text Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, 228 pages, hardback, NZ $35. ISBN 978-1-921351-47-1

Just as Shakespeare created his finest play from earlier stories, so John Marsden now draws from Hamlet to create his finest novel. Marsden’s Hamlet: a novel is an inspired retelling, from a youthful viewpoint. Some of the most powerful scenes come straight from Marsden’s imagination: Hamlet and Laertes, teenagers painting Ophelia’s room, begin play-duelling with paint brushes.

Carefully told so as to be timeless, it is also fresh. Marsden’s paraphrases of the great speeches lose their poetry but gain a sharp edge. “Don’t lend money,” warns Polonius, “Don’t borrow money.” This does not detract from Shakespeare but will draw young readers to experience the play.

A new generation’s first contact with Hamlet will come through John Marsden’s novel.

Trevor Agnew

This review was first published in Your Weekend magazine on 13 September 2008.

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