Ophelia by Norman Bacal

I wasn’t sure what to expect on reading Ophelia as it proposed to reimagine Shakespeare’s tour de force, Hamlet and I am always sceptical about modernisation of and spins on established classics. But I needn’t have worried as Norman Bacal’s novel is more of a homage than an adulteration and as a result, it makes for very good thriller reading.

If you are not aware of Hamlet, it is not a prerequisite in order for this book to be enjoyed. Revolving around the fictional company of Danmark, Geri Neilson is its head and when he dies unexpectedly, questions are asked about whether it was natural or whether it was assisted. His son, Tal, who is wayward and suffering from drug addiction, a consequence of emotional issues that he is carrying round with him from his family relationships, finds his situation compounded now that his father is no longer around. Now being free of his father’s shadow, Tal has the opportunity to thrive if he can only find his inner resolve.

Despite what he thinks, Tal is not alone and has an array of unseen friends who are all willing him to do well and take control of the family business as well as Ophelia, his girlfriend and guardian angel. But this is not going to be easy with people keen to discredit him including his own mother, Trudi and Geri’s business partner, Red.

I think that what Bacal has done here is clever. It is not a carbon copy of Hamlet but it has taken key elements of the play and crafted something extra from it, using the foundation of the dysfunctional family, the play for power between rivals, Hamlet’s turmoil and uncertainty and transposed it into a modern setting, adding to and incorporating the essence of Shakespeare’s characters and their motives into the world of big business.

Bacal’s narrative flows and despite the twists and turns, I felt that the plot was executed well. His characters are brought alive through their dialogue and interaction and I liked some of the more subtle references which were made to the original play, casually placed in the text, a reward for the observant reader. Bacal completes his novel with an ending which makes the story that he has related entirely his own and a satisfying one at that.

This review was first published on Reedsy Discovery where I was privileged to read it as an ARC.

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