Review: A Wounded Name by Dot Hutchison


Hardcover, 311 pages
Published September 1st 2013 by Carolrhoda Lab
Source: Library

“How many ways can a heart break? I suspect, because of Dane, I will discover them all.”

There’s a beauty to A Wounded Name that I am not going to be able to fully articulate here. Hutchinson has given Shakespeare’s play a modern setting, time wise, but because the actual events take place in a boarding school that is closed off from the world, it seems to be exist in a time vacuum. I was always surprised when modern accessories such as motorbikes and smart phones were mentioned. They always felt like intrusions into the narrative than prosaic items for daily use. What struck a particularly dissonant chord as far as the time setting is concerned was the status of the female students. While I understand that female education is lacking in certain countries, the type of attitude shown here towards females and education is archaic and not very believable. I don’t understand what purpose it served to have females learn how to be trophy wives without recourse to more academic study. This was at odds with the supposedly modern setting.

That said, the high school students don’t much read like modern high school students either. Hutchinson retains the drama, the melodrama, the theatrics, the atmosphere of the original and while some may quibble at the lack of authenticity, I was so in love with the language that I simply did not care.

The novel is narrated from Ophelia’s view point. The melancholy fairly seeps off the page and I bet if you were reading a hard copy, it would wear off through the ink into you. She is cosseted, loved, and thought crazy by her overprotective father and brother. Her mother tried to kill her but she survived so she was left with a promise. Now she spends her days trying to decide whether to drink her pills and dumb the singing of the sidhe outside or to not take them and sing with the sidhe outside. Her musings, her observances and her narration are all tinged with a madness that you can’t help but surrender to.

Laertes is interesting but I loved Horatio’s quiet strength. He is a lovely character and his presence is more somber than his counterparts but stronger for it. Hamlet’s pain blazes like a meteor. Hutchinson manages to make his grief profound without making him annoying especially with regards to his interactions with Ophelia, whom he loves but even loving her, he hurts her. Gertrude is useless and Claudius made me want to throw something at him. Polonius…was sad. Ophelia is far from mad; her reality is just different from everyone else’s. I didn’t find her submissive or stupid. Rather I felt that in the end she was stronger than them all.

The biggest reason I loved this novel was the beautiful writing. Hutchinson luxuriates in the language; she pulls in Shakespeare’s famous dialogues, gives them her twist and presents them to us. Even though I knew Ophelia’s tragic ending, even though I knew what was coming next, the novel was written so exquisitely that the plot seemed entirely new.

I have noticed certain reviews talking about the “bad romance” in this novel and no one is more sensitive to the issue than I. However, I just want to point out that at no time during the book does the subtext ever condone the obviously dysfunctional relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet. The undesirability of the emotions that hold Ophelia captive is often made explicit. She understands that theirs is not a healthy relationship. The subtext does not dress the romance up in sparkles and sell it as one to be emulated or desired (unlike other books I can mention, ahem).

Even if you disliked Hamlet, I urge you to give this one a chance. And if this is your first time to the play and the story, I recommend that you dive right in and prepare to be bewitched.


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