Review – A Wounded Name
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  • May 17, 2013
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A Wounded Name is a debut novel by Dot Hutchison releasing this September. The book is a contemporary retelling of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I’m going to presume that many of you know the original story so I will not completely rehash it. I prefer instead to talk about Hutchison’s brilliant take on it. The book is told in first person from Ophelia’s point of view as she shares the events leading up to the tragic end of the Prince of Denmark. It is a title that I expect to hear more about, particularly since the early responses have been so favorable. I’m not even going to tease on this one – I loved it… every word. I thought it was fantastic.

This book… wow… this book.

Ophelia Castellan has always feared that she would succumb to her dead Mother’s legacy, a grim future of madness and promiscuity. The fears are not isolated to her alone. Her Father, Polonius, and older brother, Laertes, maintain an ever-watchful vigilance over both Ophelia’s virtue and sanity. But they never factored Hamlet Danemark VI, known as Dane to his friends, into the equation.

Dane’s father, the head of the illustrious Elsinore Academy, has died suddenly. This sends Elsinore into an uproar, but none are as shattered as Dane. Dane is stricken by this and in his grief he turns to Ophelia for comfort. This single act sets off a series of events that will draw them both to the brink of madness and beyond, particularly when Dane comes to learn that his father’s death may have been prevented.

I was immediately drawn into the world that Hutchison was painstakingly recreating. Within a page I knew that I was going to like her style. Her writing is solid, beautiful, and rife with deliciously quotable passages. Her use of metaphor and word-play is perfect. I found myself rereading lines and sharing them aloud to others amazed that this was her first novel. The level of craftsmanship that went into this is unbelievable. It’s obvious that this book has been a labour of love for her. It shows with every nuance in characterization, with the attention to thematic elements, and, most importantly, in the wild, runaway chemistry between Ophelia and Dane.

Here Ophelia is gorgeously rendered; the dynamic woman of myth and fantasy that Shakespeare only hinted at. Hutchison gives her so many new levels – she’s troubled, she’s sneaky, she’s loyal and she’s kind. She’s also devoted and strong and weak and knows her limitations. She is the heart and soul of the play and in this book she finally gets the spotlight that she has deserved for the last four centuries. One feels every emotion as if they were there with her, holding her hand and spurning her into the water yourself. My heart broke repeatedly for her with every foreshadowed allusion to her end and then broke again… and again… and again.

There’s a chaotic beauty to her relationship with Dane. Dane himself is a masterpiece of characterization, a wondrous glitch. Dane is the kind of man that a reader sympathizes with despite his obvious and distasteful flaws. Dane is self-absorbed, he’s singularly minded, and he’s manipulative without realizing that he is. He’s the ultimate user and Ophelia is merely the drug that he abuses… and abuses her he does, both mentally and physically. There are some haunting, brutal, painful scenes in this book. And yet the reader forgives him just as Ophelia does, accepts that he has his problems, and let’s him get away with his callous whims. It’s not that he’s a particularly good boyfriend or anything, far from it. He’s gets away with murder… until he doesn’t. And he drags Ophelia along for the ride, every tragic turn of it.

This is the love story that I love to read; a doomed one. I’m a sucker for torturous beauty and impossibilities when it comes to romantic plot lines. To me there is no better romantic ending than two lovers who don’t live happily ever after. This play has always fulfilled that element for me in multiple ways. Hutchison’s execution of this tragedy goes beyond my expectations. I gritted my teeth for the entire book but my lips were still smiling. It’s such a rough ride but it’s worth every heart-wrenching, aching second. I’m not sure who Hutchison was writing this book for but I swear she was directing it at my kind. I’m so in love with her words.

I encourage fans of Laini Taylor, April Lindner, and Tessa Gratton to go immediately and pre-order this book. I think you won’t be disappointed. This is a definite favourite of the year. It’s going on my shelves and never leaving them.

5 out of 5 stars.

– BP

* A Wounded Name releases September 1, 2013 by Carolrhoda Lab. A review copy was provided via Netgalley from the fine folks at Lerner. My utter thanks for letting me read it early.

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