OPHELIA’S REVENGE by Rebecca Reisert (Review)

Norway, mid-11th Century

Looking back, I blame my disgraceful behaviour in part on my hunger to make sense of the lives of Prince Hamlet and his family. If we’re to stay sane, our world must make sense, and to my thirteen-year-old self there was too much in the lives of the queen and king that made no sense at all. In part I blame my bad behaviour on my boredom. Yes, it was glorious to live as a lady in the castle, but I hadn’t realised how tedious such a life would be. Servants did all the work, and except for a few hours schooling each day, I had nothing but sleeping and eating and grooming myself to fill my time. The gentle-born boys of my age had hawking and hunting and riding and training in the arts of war, but girls were expected to wait patiently until they were given in marriage as brood mares for their husbands. […] At about thirteen the blood begins to boil and a dark sap in us begins to rise. I suspect even the most chaste among us begin to be haunted with lewd thought and dreams. I do know that in the beginning, my fantasies of Prince Hamlet centred around acting in plays together, but now I began to have fantasies of a baser nature …

Another novel full of medieval magic and mysticism, and of medieval outsiders (a girl taken from the only life she has known and expected to live as a great lady in the castle of the king, a prince who cannot play the macho role expected of him, a herbalist with a rather too comprehensive collection of poisons) this is a follow-on from The Third Witch. Not a sequel, but another novel written in the same vein: Take a Shakespeare play and rewrite it from the viewpoint of a teenage girl.

It worked well in The Third Witch. At first, I didn’t think it was working so well here. Like Gilly (in The Third Witch), Ophelia is of gentle birth but when the story opens is being brought up in poverty by strangers. Like Gilly, she is full of romantic dreams and crazy schemes. Like Gilly, she is wild, she is totally ruthless, and she will use anyone to gain her ends.

They are both obsessed. Gilly was obsessed with revenge. Ophelia is obsessed with her love for the beautiful, mad prince who spoke to her one day in an idle moment as he passed through the village, and does not even recognise her when, years later, she has been reinstated at the castle as Polonius’ daughter. Her friend and mentor at the castle, the one who transforms her from village hoyden to young lady, is the queen, Gertrude, a rather pathetic figure who is abused by her brutal first husband, King Hamlet.

Yorick shook his head. ‘She doesn’t say him nay, even when he beats her. What can she do now?’
‘She can run away,’
‘And go where?’
‘Anywhere.’
‘She has no family, no money. What can she live on?’
I was sick of his objections. ‘She can learn a trade and take to weaving.’
Amusement flickered in Yorick’s eyes. ‘I don’t think a queen can give over being a queen and take to a trade.’
‘Better that than to stay here and let one of the king’s loyal soldiers toss her over a parapet to her death in the sea.’
‘In the eyes of the law and the church, she’s the king’s property, like his hounds or his boots. She cannot leave him.’

True, but to Ophelia, unacceptable. And it is this that leads to her first murder. For yes, it is Ophelia who puts the poison in Claudius’ hand and thus rids the court of its murderous king and saves the queen’s life.

But one thing leads to another. One death, one murder …

Although I have no reservations about the novel, finally, I have to admit that I am not sure about the title. The one motive Ophelia never has is revenge – though others around her are indeed intent on just that.

Well written, though, and if you enjoyed Rebecca Reisert’s first novel based on a Shakespeare girl, you will enjoy this one.

If there were another in the series, would the next be Juliet, I wonder? And would Juliet, like Ophelia, only seem to die?

EARLY DEATH (by Elizabeth Siddal)

For a few words about Elizabeth Siddal, and a beautiful painting of her, see my earlier post HERE

Oh grieve not with thy bitter tears
The life that passes fast;
The gates of heaven will open wide
And take me in at last.

Then sit down meekly at my side
And watch my young life flee;
Then solemn peace of holy death
Come quickly unto thee.

But true love, seek me in the throng
Of spirits floating past,
And I will take thee by the hands
And know thee mine at last.

And here she is again, this time as Ophelia … 

I wonder whether the paintings she modelled for influenced her own writing?

MARKING TIME by April White (Review)

I am re-reading this story and enjoying it even more the second time than I did the first time – so am re-posting this review for any of you who didn’t see it first time round.

Saira Elian is a 17-year-old Californian girl whose English mother disappears while Saira, a solitary parkour free-runner and tagger (hope I got that right!), is out doing her thing in “the tunnels” somewhere under LA.  Faced with the Child Protection Services unless she can name a relative who will take responsibility for her, Saira reluctantly tells them about someone in England.

That someone was waiting for me when I stepped off the British Airways flight in London: Millicent Elian. I hadn’t seen my grandmother since I was three years old […] My mother couldn’t stand her. Not a big surprise given the way she was sizing me up, probably wondering if I was worth the effort. […]
“I see you got his height.” Millicent’s tone was not flattering.
“Hello, Millicent.” I knew I should be more polite and call her “Grandmother”, considering she just kept me out of foster care, but she hadn’t really earned the title.
“And his manners, too, obviously.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
[…]
“I have a car waiting.” Of course she did. Millicent’s fancy gray Rolls Royce waited at the curb outside the airport, and her fancy gray driver held the door open for us.
“Home, Jeeves,” she said with total authority.
“Jeeves? You’re joking.”
“I don’t joke.” Millicent’s expression didn’t change.
Jeeves caught my eye in the rear-view mirror and very slowly, he winked. It wasn’t much, that wink, but it was something.

It turns out that the Elians are a family of time-travellers, and Saira’s mother, who is normally gone for only what seems to be a couple of days is now being held against her will in Victorian London. And that, of course, is where half the story, and most of the adventure, takes place.

One aspect of the story that fascinated me was the love between Saira and a young man in Victorian times who had already known Saira in the future in her own time and fallen for her there – or should that be “then”? He, of course, doesn’t know about this yet, and she can’t tell him because the secret of how he came to be still a young man all those years later is just – well …

I’ll leave it to you to sort all this out when you read the book, and add only, by way of encouragement, that while the ingredients may not be entirely original (there’s Hogwarts here, and Ann Rice, and Jack the Ripper, and Time Travel) the resulting dish is something different from the usual run-of-the-mill YA, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

IF I WAS DEAD (by Carol Ann Duffy)

If I was dead,
and my bones adrift
like dropped oars
in the deep, turning earth;

or drowned,
and my skull
a listening shell
on the dark ocean bed;

if I was dead,
and my heart
soft mulch
for a red, red rose;

or burned,
and my body
a fistful of grit, thrown
in the face of the wind;

if I was dead,
and my eyes,
blind at the roots of flowers,
wept into nothing,

I swear your love
would raise me
out of my grave,
in my flesh and blood,

like Lazarus;
hungry for this,
and this, and this,
your living kiss.

ADRIFT (by Deidre Cartmill)

I sniff the duvet as I pull it close
and wrap my arms around your memory

I lie in the smell of your aftershave.
Sweat drips off the sheets onto my skin.

One black sock, discarded by the bed
rolls under to hide with the bogeyman.

I sniff the duvet as I pull it close
and wrap my arms around your memory.

I wonder what phantoms you cling to –
my bruised lips skimming your stubbled cheek

the imprint of fingers on your pulsing
my photograph pinned above your desk

with the other fantasy images.
As I lie in the warmth of your absence

lulled by illusions of intimacy
I pull the memories close and drift back to sleep.

BONS MOTS (by Deidre Cartmill)

If he reached for me …. I’d drop my pen

He says that I don’t love him.
He says that I caress the page,
stroke my pen across its face
while he lies aching
for my tender touch.

He says that I roll words for thrills,
disguise the pain
in chocolate drops of thought
that drip from mind to nib
in vain.

But if he reached for me,
if he salved my soul with wordless
whispers from the tongue of his desire,
I’d drop my pen
I’d blaze through life on fire.