Appropriated and adapted Shakespeare is one of my favourite things about the way Shakespeare lives on today. Admittedly these works can have their issues, reducing plays down to story alone and failing to carry over the poetical playfulness. They may even appear to have a total disregard for their original’s atmosphere and tone. As with play performances, the choices made are not always to everyone’s taste. Nevertheless, from books to plays and even a hip-hop parody, I like the playfulness a new creative artist brings as they shape and form Shakespeare in new and exciting fashions. Therefore, I jumped at the chance to review Mullin’s Simon, a Young Adult (YA) Hamlet adaptation.
Like, Hamlet, Simon’s title gives away little besides its eponymous hero’s identity. It firmly declares itself as such from the outset with the large skull on the front cover and the ‘to be..’ speech weaving its way in and out of the title.
The story kicks off with the final scene from Hamlet, the massacre and it’s a headline story – literally. The tale is funnelled through several perspectives, a multi-media-modern-mansion-murders tale, if you will. The bodies have been discovered and it is the job of the rest of the story to uncover the truth behind the deaths. If you’re familiar with the opening of the RSC Hamlet where we encounter the watch awaiting the ghost via the eerie gaze of a CCTV camera, Simon takes this almost dystopic and certainly voyeuristic aspect of modern society, and reveals it for all its horror through the filter of Hamlet. Cosy Boston society gets a bloody violent wake-up call and one which resonates in our screen-driven society.
The newsflash of a mansion-murderers fades into black as we are transported back to the funeral-cum-wedding of the aptly named owners of the mansion, the Elsinores. From here the plot follows closely its source text, Simon a film student and reclusive since the sudden death of his father, is alerted to a ghostly presence on the video tape of his mother’s swift second wedding by his friends. Lo and behold while alone in his room the ghost’s speaks to him and reveals the truth. His ex-girlfriend flits in and out like Ophelia, and for no apparent reason appears to have a nasty drug habit – a Mullin addition to the Shakespeare plot. Tennis twins make up Rosencratz and Guilderstern, a business partner for Polonius and even the subplot gravediggers are given a couple of chapters. It ends, as it began, with the massacre and the truth finally revealed at least in words. The mousetrap is particularly well staged, with a film showing at Simon’s mum’s charity get together.
The story accosts you from the outset and keeps you hooked throughout; there are odd diversions here or there and the switching of perspectives can take a second to get you head around, a bit like a home video that keeps switching between scenes. Overall, in a way that a really powerful Hamlet play performance can, Simon spoke in an urgent and direct tone to me in perhaps a way that reading the play might lack. It acts as a bridge between performance and play text powerful in its own right as a YA book, and infused with even greater urgency as it opened my eyes to the magnitude of the human crisis of Hamlet.
Furthermore, it seems to me that placing the play in a novel format gave the narrative more basis, what appear unnecessary deaths were still out of proportion to the circumstance but the characters motives, thoughts, and feelings were clearer in a way that the deeply coded and dark narrative of Hamlet disguises. Although branded as a YA novel, Simon is not just for those who can’t face Hamlet, or for those who’ve never tried, but it’s also for people like me who’ve seen countless productions of Hamlet and read the play (yes, all three) because it will speak to you of the play and the characters in ways that challenge and encourage all readers alike to consider this well-known play anew. Simon, while clearly fictiona,l smacks of the truth. Simon’s the story, but the play’s the thing at the heart of it.
Simon demonstrates the way in which the power of narrative and the power of Shakespearean drama can be harnessed and if, as Mullin manages, this power is captured new angles and elements of the play and society may be brought to light. This is not simply an appropriation which takes storyline but one which replicates and reinvigorates characters, emotions, and circumstance, and presents them anew in comfortable suburbia where we’d least expect it.
Michael Mullin, Simon (Pasadena: Gemiknight Press, 2015)
I’m always keen to read and review Shakespeare adapted novels, short stories, plays, or poems, do feel free to get in touch either by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter where you can find me @srawaters.