Written by AJ Hartley and David Hewson, narrated by Richard Armitage — OK, OK, before you say, “been there, done that Hamlet thing—five times, maybe 10,” this is another Hamlet animal altogether. As an inveterate audiobook fan, I will say that the Hartley/Hewson Macbeth, narrated by Alan Cumming is one of the best audio books I’ve ever listened to. So, I was eagerly anticipating listening to the their Hamlet.
Perhaps this Hamlet doesn’t quite reach the stratospheric genius of Macbeth, but it gives you plenty to chew on. I think Hartley (a Shakespeare scholar) and Hewson (the crime writer, interviewed here) are an inspired pairing and have truly done it again. They fill in the leaps and gaps in the Bard’s plot, they provide background information that heightens appreciation of the stakes and therefore the tension, they infuse the text with modern psychological insights. In short, they have made Hamlet more real than perhaps you have ever felt him before.
No need to dwell on plot. Nearly everybody knows it. But what they have done in novelising Shakespeare’s text is brilliant. First, they’ve fleshed out some potential action scenes. The play’s glancing reference to pirates receives a full treatment here, which shows Hamlet to be more a man of action than the black-garbed, skull-staring, brooder we have come to associate with the Danish prince. Ophelia’s death also has a much more robust development than the usual wan, flower-strewn suicide.
Perhaps Hartley and Hewson’s cleverest stroke was in creating a son of Yorick to be Hamlet’s constant friend and goad, to share and prompt him with the lines of the famous soliloquies. I was so taken with this creation that I didn’t fully appreciate its subtle origins and intent until the story’s conclusion. Listening to the interviews with Hartley and Hewson that follow the novel you’ll discover how and why they arrived at this fictional device.
Purists, take note. There is nothing here that is not fully suggested or believable in the context of the play. Before you get your doublet in a knot, recall that the play itself was not created out of cloth entire, but built on folk tales and previous works. The authors are merely taking the creative armamentarium of Shakespeare himself and aiming it at 21st century sensibilities.
Hamlet is a ghost story; it is a murder story; it is a tale of guilt and revenge; it is about treachery and lust. Everything that makes a good crime thriller!
Richard Armitage is well suited to take on the narrative challenge. He has appeared in numerous television and film roles and played John Proctor in The Old Vic’s production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, where he earned an Olivier Award nomination. He won the 2014 Best Audiobook of the Year Award for this rendering of Hamlet. While it’s also available for the Kindle, let Armitage tell you the story.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars