Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Review: The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet by Myrlin A. Hermes

Hamlet is the Shakespeare play I have read over and over and over again. It was a perpetual inclusion on class reading lists from high school all the way to graduate school. I've even seen it performed more than once. And yet I never thought too much about what kind of past would have created a melancholy character like the ever philosophical, strangely stagnant Prince of Denmark. Luckily for me, Myrlin Hermes has thought about that past and written a truly rollicking good novel complete with many of Shakespeare's own crazy conventions to flesh out that topsy-turvy tale.

Loyal Horatio is a poor scholar at Wittenberg University, toiling away for years on a philosophical dissertation that has long since ceased to interest him, chiefly because of his badly concealed agnosticism. Into his narrow world comes Baron de Maricourt, who commissions a romantic play meant to laud his own holdings and flatter those among his friends. Horatio cannot afford to turn down the commission even if he struggles not only with the original source material but also with the increasingly ludicrous additions suggested by the Baron, or rather by his lady wife Adriane. Meanwhile, as Horatio wrestles with what sounds suspiciously like A Midsummer Night's Dream, he meets Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, and in this possibly mad but exceedingly fair wastrel, finds his muse.

Horatio writes for Hamlet, falls in love with him, and devises a way for Hamlet to act in his play. But this brings Hamlet into the sphere of Lady Adriane, the Dark Lady of Shakespeare's sonnets, with whom Horatio is also half in love and having an affair. And just as in Shakespeare's comedies, this love triangle becomes confused and befuddling. Add in a late-arrival in the character of a poet called Will Shake-speare, seemingly Horatio's rival both for the affections of both Hamlet and Lady Adriane and for the job of playwright/poet and the plot gets dizzyingly intricate.

Horatio narrates the majority of the novel but occasionally the reader hears from Lady Adriane's perspective when Horatio's limited knowledge of the complicated and carefully orchestrated situation doesn't reveal enough. It can be a little jarring, despite the font difference, the first time the narrator changes but in the end, it works well. Hermes has sprinkled little Shakespeare treats throughout the story and the astute reader will feel little puffs of pride at catching more than simply the most obvious of the allusions and famous lines. Her narrative is madcap and definitely twists Hamlet in ways I never would have suspected but she has done it with such facility that it seems nothing more than entirely plausible to me now having come to the end of her prequel.

It did take a sort of re-alignment of my expectations in order to sink fully into the text but once I did, the comedic twistings and turnings, the bed-hopping and gender identity issues, the nods and curtsies to the Bard, the wild imaginings, and even the sly questions on Shakespeare's authorship kept me reading along at a good clip. It's probably best for a reader to have some knowledge of Hamlet before reading this but those without that grounding might still find the romance and the tragedy of friendship, true love and loyalty appealing as well.

For more, be sure to visit Myrlin Hermes' website as well as her blog.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours for sending me a review copy of this book.


  1. This is a book that I most likely would never read had it not been for book blogs like yours and others where I have read some great reviews.

  2. I think you touched on something that's extremely important in reading: "It did take a sort of re-alignment of my expectations in order to sink fully into the text..." I wonder how often we don't like a book because it's not what we expected, and really that's not fair to the book or to ourselves. Conversely, though, I think it's hard to go into a book with no expectations and it's something I'm constantly striving for.

    Thanks for being on this tour! I'm stoked you liked the book. :)

  3. What a wonderful review of this book! I had seen it around but was really uninspired to read it, but now I'm off to put it on the TBR list.

  4. It's been years since I last read Hamlet, but it's one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. This book sounds worth checking out. Thanks for the review.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  5. This sounds lovely. I've always enjoyed Hamlet, and this sounds like such an interesting read. Great review!


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