Picks and Pans Review: Gertrude and Claudius
It is winter in Denmark, in the soon-to-be haunted castle of Elsinore, which, we are told, sits in a "foggy hinterland, where the sheep look like rocks and the rocks look like sheep."
To bleat or not to bleat? In this ingenious prequel to Shakespeare's Hamlet, National Book Award winner John Updike dazzles with plenty of wordplay before the swordplay. Instead of fussing with a clever plot that dovetails with the Bard's, Updike tells a simple love story and offers brilliantly nuanced portraits of two characters Shakespeare merely sketched—Queen Gertrude (Prince Hamlet's mom) and King Claudius (Hamlet's uncle turned wicked stepfather). This is a new perspective—that of a middle-aged queen falling for her husband's darkly mysterious younger brother. Tragedy broods in the wings, of course. But for the space of this short, sly novel, the guilty couple share sweet romance. (Knopf, $23)
Bottom Line: Rich reimagining of classic characters