5 / 5 Stars
A Hamlet retelling with a very fresh, thought-provoking perspective.
Okay, I'll admit - when I started reading this book, I initially released an internal groan. Not another Shakesepeare interpretation, I thought! What more can be said about Hamlet - the play that's been covered literally hundreds of times in previous works?
Well, as Matt Haig proves, there is a new angle to explore, and he explores it with real panache.
Phillip's Dad, a former pub landlord, has recently died in a car-crash. Except (like Hamlet's father), he's refusing to die quietly. Instead, he starts haunting Phillip, telling him that he's part of the 'dead father's club' - men who have been murdered and who are seeking vengeance.
Meanwhile, Phillip's mother is shacked up with Uncle Alan, who (you guessed it) is the one Phillip's dad claimed killed him. Phillip is in a whirl. He knows he must kill the man who murdered his father - the only question (to begin with) is how?
His girlfriend Leah is the only one who doesn't think he's a weirdo - until, of course, Phillip does something unspeakable to her father. What follows next is a potential recipe for tragedy - though with a rather different ending to the Shakespearean text (I won't give it away).
So here's what I LOVED about this book. We all know that Hamlet was the king of indecision, and that he may or may not have been mad. However, his state of mind is always a mystery, due to the perspective of the play. (The soliloquies, in my opinion, only reveal so much).
With Phillip, it's explored in much more detail - grief, resentment, inability to act, the sense of isolation - it's all there, in gloriously modern terms. What's also utterly magnificent is the possibility that the father's ghost doesn't exist at all - and that Phillip is suffering some sort of mental breakdown after losing a loved one. This puts a totally fresh spin on things, which I thought was really clever. It made me start wondering - what if that was the case in the original Hamlet? What if Claudius was actually totally innocent? Thought provoking stuff!
As with a lot of Matt Haig's writing, he manages to lay bare human emotion, and put it into relateable sentences.
My only minor niggle was that there were parts where I felt the boy's voice was a little 'young' for Year 7 (this is probably the ex-secondary school teacher in me, remembering what they're like at that age). However, this only jarred very slightly on occasion, and didn't bother me particularly. It's bloody hard writing from the perspective of a child, especially when covering high-impact, emotive issues!
I'd really recommend it - especially if you like the author's other books. A very good read indeed.