Monday, June 9, 2014

Review: A Wounded Name

“A Wounded Name,” by Dot Hutchison. The Goodreads summary:
There's a girl who could throw herself head first into life and forge an unbreakable name, an identity that stands on its own without fathers or brothers or lovers who devour and shatter.


Sixteen-year-old Ophelia Castellan will never be just another girl at Elsinore Academy. Seeing ghosts is not a skill prized in future society wives. Even when she takes her pills, the bean sidhe beckon, reminding her of a promise to her dead mother.

Now, in the wake of the Headmaster's sudden death, the whole academy is in turmoil, and Ophelia can no longer ignore the fae. Especially once she starts seeing the Headmaster's ghosts- two of them- on the school grounds.

At the center of her crumbling world is Dane, the Headmaster's grieving son. He, too, understands the power of a promise to a parent- even a dead one. To him, Ophelia is the only person not tainted by deceit and hypocrisy, a mirror of his own broken soul. And to Ophelia, Dane quickly becomes everything. Yet even as she gives more of herself to him, Dane slips away. Consumed by suspicion, rage, and madness, he spirals towards his tragic fate- dragging Ophelia, and the rest of Elsinore, with him.


Yet even in the face of certain death, Ophelia has a choice to make- and a promise to keep. She is not the girl others want her to be. But in Dot Hutchison's dark and sensuous debut novel, the name "Ophelia" is as deeply, painfully, tragically real as "Hamlet".
First of all, this is a drop-dead gorgeous cover. And not only is it gorgeous, it fits the book perfectly—both in plot and tone. But beyond the cover, my feelings for this book are . . . complex, to say the least.

Dot Hutchinson can write. There is absolutely no doubt about that. She strings words together in a way that’s not only beautiful but that creates the perfect atmosphere for the story. But because the language is so lovely, I was about three-fourths of the way through the book before I realized I had some major issues with it. And to Hutchinson’s credit, I think all the issues I had with the book were deliberate on her part. Like, it didn’t seem like any of them were the result of carelessness or not developing something enough, rather they were all part of the way Hutchinson intended to tell the story, as frustrating as they may have been.

And let me tell you, this is not a Hamlet retelling where anyone is redeemed. It’s a tragedy as much as the original play is. And I was expecting that, based on a few reviews I read. But what I wasn’t expecting was for Ophelia to be such a passive character. And I like I said, I came away with the impression that Hutchinson fully intended her to be that way. But still. I wanted her to act for once, instead of always being acted upon. But she never does. She never takes her life into her own hands, always letting others shape her life for her. That was a tragedy to me as much as the deaths were. And I think what got to me the most about Ophelia’s passivity is that Dane is abusive—physically and emotionally—and she just takes it. And more than that, she wants it. She wants him to take his pain out on her, and I just really struggled with that aspect of her character.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read Hamlet, but as far as I can tell, “A Wounded Name” was a fairly close retelling. I think what I found most interesting was that rather than changing the story to make it easier to swallow, the author instead explores what kind of people and events and backstories are needed for the story of Hamlet end the way it does. And in that, she does a fantastic job. I didn’t always like the characters, but their dislikable and complicated qualities made it so obvious why the story had to end with bitterness and death and revenge.

Seriously, I could go on and on some more about this book. Like I said, my feelings are complicated. But I think the last thing I’ll mention is the supernatural element. I just really think it worked so perfectly in this book. It makes Ophelia walking into that lake so incredibly understandable, which is something you don’t get in the original.

Overall, not an easy book, but one I think is worth a read. Ophelia really got to me by then end—to the point where I started yelling at the book out loud—but I think all those complex emotions I had made this a book I’ve thought about more than most others in recent memory.

Rating: 3 / 5 

1 comment:

  1. I've never actually read Hamlet but from what I've heard from others it's not exactly a feel good play. I always admire writers who take a stab at a retelling. This one sounds like the kind of book that will have you thinking for weeks after you read it. I just don't know how I will feel about Ophelia encouraging her own abuse...


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