***Note: this review assumes that you've read the book.***
One-sentence summary: A Hamlet retelling, from Ophelia's point of view, delving beautifully into her fragile mind, with only a few debut hiccups along the way.
Carolrhoda Lab shoutout. I've so far enjoyed every Carolrhoda Lab book I've read, even the flawed ones. Andrew Karre (the editor) has interesting, brave taste, and I always feel stimulated reading his list. Being medium-sized means he can take risks, and the YA lit world is better off for it. Dot Hutchison's A Wounded Name is no exception--aiming for something big, something rich with character and theme, and mostly succeeding.
The plot: see Hamlet, of course. But in this retelling the "king," Hamlet senior, is the director of a boarding school somewhere on the East Coast. His son Dane has been friends with Ophelia for years, but during the course of the novel they become intimate, and as Dane's sanity unwinds, his dependence on Ophelia (and abuse of her) escalates. Ophelia has already drowned once in this story: her mother committed suicide with little Ophelia in her arms (or went to join the morgens, whichever version you subscribe to, real or magical), and Ophelia was rescued by Hamlet, who could not also save her mother. Since then, Ophelia has been able to visit and speak with her mother and the morgens, who live in the drowned city of Ys. Her mother wants her to join them. Ophelia resists, feeling she still has some tenuous ties to this life. We know she won't resist forever, however. Ophelia also sees the eternal huntsmen in the forest, and of course she sees Hamlet's ghost, which in this story is cleaved into two parts--peaceful and vengeful. The vengeful half goads Dane into taking revenge. Both Ophelia and Dane take prescribed medications to keep their demons at bay, which I also thought was a nice modern touch.
The risk of Shakespeare. Shakespeare adaptations are awkward beasts, because the plots of Shakespeare's plays are themselves almost never original to Shakespeare, but are old stories and traditions that Shakespeare liked and adapted himself. What makes his plays "original" is his exquisite language and nuance. It makes me wonder whether the best "retellings" are actually the ones like the movie Clueless, which disguised Jane Austen's Emma with such a fresh take, you weren't bothering to make point-by-point comparisons.
What I loved: Ophelia. I loved that she was already essentially dead in the book. It eased the knowledge that she'd die again, especially because she knew it, but it also made her so otherworldly--so deeply ephemeral, like the raw emotions you'd expect to be the last fragments that a soul leaves on the planet before it disappears. She was already nearly a ghost, and you could see it in the way she barely ate, she didn't register as a person in a crowd, she didn't bother to get to know her classmates, and the way her body was so fragile, so barely existent and easily crushed. I think it's brave and true the way Hutchison ended our view of the world with her death. We know what will happen because Ophelia already knows what will happen. And she knows that this is the moment to take herself away as a tool for Claudius to use against Dane. If you think of Ophelia as already dead, you can forgive how weak-willed she seems to be and see her more as a powerless observer.
Of course I had problems. Why didn't the gardener reveal to anyone in authority that he had found the syringe in the bushes? Why is it Ophelia's job to make the accusation? If he brought up what he found, Ophelia's follow-up testimony would have been that Claudius was the first at the scene of Hamlet's death. Of course it can't work that way if we're following Shakespeare's story, but in the present day, evidence of a murder wouldn't just be handed over to a teenage girl, to keep in her dresser or the pocket of her dress, fondling it.