11 April 2010

Book Review: The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet

Title:  The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet
Author:  Myrlin A. Hermes

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Plot Synopsis
Horatio's ability to think deeply and logically is only challenged by his encounter and subsequent relationship with Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, who is "an outrageous, provocative, and flamboyantly beautiful young man".  Their tragically flawed relationship soars and suffers under the manipulations of Horatio's patroness Lady Adriane.  Soon, Horatio finds himself rivaled by another poet who seems to have earned the admiration of both Hamlet and Lady Adriane.

My Thoughts
What a beautiful book!  Hermes has created something tragic, beautiful, and moving with this novel, entirely worthy of the Shakespearean play it is based on. The trio starring in this story, Hamlet, Horatio, and Lady Adriane, are each cleverly and deeply portrayed while retaining an element of mystery that is intriguing rather than frustrating.  Ah, it's difficult to explain myself here.  I think what I mean is that I found myself carefully balanced between feeling like I knew these characters intimately and not at all throughout the entirety of the story.  And far from keeping me from empathizing with the characters, this delicate balancing act actually made me more involved, made me care more deeply for the characters.

It was something like the feeling or relationship one has with one's parents for that peculiar time between childhood and adulthood.  Here are these people (or just one person as in my case) whom you have known all of your life.  You know their smell, their sound, their face, their mannerisms; you sometimes know what they will say before they say it and how they will move their hands while they are relating a particular story.  And yet, you reach a point where you realize that there is more to your mother and father than what you have known for the first twenty odd years of your life.  That they have secret dreams and desires, secret motivations and histories, that make them a more complex being than you once thought.  That is how I felt about the main characters in Hermes' novel.

Horatio, as a character, was handled beautifully.  His intricacies, such as being a bit prissy and formal or thinking about the etymology of words in times of stress, are cleverly used to add depth to a character readers of Shakespeare are already familiar with.  Lady Adriane fascinated me; her role is much more than one would expect, and while I don't want to give too much away, I will say that her cunning and manipulations, while not exactly admirable, do not detract from my admiration for her.

Hamlet intrigued me the most, not because he is better portrayed, but because he is the character I was most familiar with going in to the book (obviously).  I have read the play multiple times, taught it in multiple courses, and find something new and interesting in the play and in the character every time.  Since we are seeing this world primarily through Horatio's eyes, Hamlet is offered up to the reader in a rather idealized fashion.  I believe, however, that this is relatively true to the original as the play Hamlet, while highlighting all of Hamlet's faults, still manages to set him up as a person to be admired, worshiped even - like one would worship an overly intelligent, overly emotion, rather mad god.

If I had one difficulty with the novel, it is the ending, and it is difficult to discuss the ending without giving away portions of the plot.  So, if you have not yet read this book, skip the next portion of this review.  When I started reading, I was unsure if this was a prelude to the story in Hamlet or a retelling of it.  As I read, I realized that the events transpiring were prior to the opening of the play, and I must admit, I was glad.  An addition to Hamlet is much more interesting to me than a retelling of what I consider to be a near-perfect story.  Unfortunately, the end of the book does not bear this promise out.

In the end, Horatio arrives at Elsinore, meets with Bernard and sees the ghost of the dead king.  But he makes a choice, the reasonable one, and decides to hide this encounter from Hamlet, hence nullifying the events in the Shakespearean play.  Quickly, the post-dead-king life of Hamlet is played out for us on the page, as a sort of epilogue rather than a story.  This Hamlet marries, bears a child who does not survive, and dies.  Readers are led to believe that the play of Hamlet is a fabrication created by Horatio in a sort of 'what might have been' homage to Hamlet.  I would have preferred either a more in-depth look at Hamlet's remaining life - a lot of questions were left unanswered: What happened to Fortinbras coming for the kingdom?  What relationship existed between Hamlet and Horatio after Hamlet's marriage to Ophelia?  And so many others I still have running through my brain.  Or I would have been quite happy if the story had ended upon Horatio's arrival or upon seeing the ghost, and the reader would have been left with Shakespeare's Hamlet as the ending to the story.


And you know, it's entirely possible that my dissatisfaction was due to a strong desire for the story to continue.  This was one of those books that putting down was disheartening, like losing a friend. Despite my lingering questions, I adored this book.  I found it to be elegantly written, evocative, and entertaining.  This is one that will remain on the shelves - despite my desire to limit my obscene collection of books- as I can very much see myself reading this again.

Memorable Scene:  Hamlet is playing a woman in a play written by Horatio for Lady Adriane's husband, and in one scene the young woman (Hamlet) and the hero are marrying... Watching the scene played, I realized what I had not while writing it: that I had conjured up a portrait of my own deepest desires.  I was in love with Hamlet - not as I had told myself as devoted friend, nor faithful servant, but ardently, passionately.  I would court him as a lover, marry him if I could, if such a thing were not unspeakable.  Unthinkable, even - yet here it was, before me on the stage, the two men kissing and embracing, openly.  I was surprised to find tears springing to my eyes.  I had shown my love before the world, and all the world had fallen in love.

Memorable QuoteAnd if you should hate me...hate me now...do not leave me last, when all my other friends have already abandoned me...do it now, so I may have the worst blow first, and all my other losses may seem mild, in comparison.  What a tragically beautiful plea.

Other Reviews
If I've missed yours, let me know!

Book Addiction; The Literary Omnivore; Regular Rumination; Laughing Stars; Wordsmithsonia;

If you'd like more information, visit Myrlin Hermes' website at http://www.myrlinahermes.com/, or her blog at http://the-lunatic-the-lover-and-the-poet.blogspot.com/

FTC Disclosure:  I received this book for a review on the TLC Book Tour.

Other Stops on the Tour:
Life in the Thumb, Steph and Tony Investigate, Raging Bibliomania, Books for Breakfast, Worducopia, Write Meg!
ChallengesReading Resolutions, GLBT Challenge, Hogwarts Reading Challenge,


  1. Interesting thoughts on the ending...I won't discuss it here, but I thought you had some good points. I'm so pleased that you liked it, though! The way you and Ryan describe the book, I almost feel like I would be sitting down to a scrumptious meal if I read this. :)

    Thanks for being on the tour!

  2. I passed on this book because of the baby due date, and I'm TOTALLY kicking myself. I was just petting the book in the bookstore this weekend and wishing I had my paws on a copy.

    It's going on my e-wish list right now!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. AHHh, sorry about that! I accidentally gave a little spoiler away there.. not thinking. Ok, I'll just say I agree with your thoughts in your spoilery section, haha. As for the rest, I said:

    Wow, this does sound good! Great quotes/passages!


  5. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I really liked it as well. And it was so delightfully different than so much of what is coming out right now that it had that added edge to it too. :-)


    *total Shakespeare/Hamlet fangirling*

    Why hasn't anyone thought of this before?!

    Whoa - I am SO excited about this book! And I'm intrigued now about the ending (so glad I skipped the spoiler section)


    *promptly adds to TBR list*

    And that quote is just STUNNING.

    Whee! Okay. Excitement over.

  7. WARNING: This comment may be spoilerish --I had the same thoughts about the ending. I interpreted this not as a prequel to Hamlet, in the usual sense, but a take on how the play came to be written. I figured Horatio took some of the events that happened, mixed it with some things that might have happened, and created "Hamlet" (which was somehow credited to the apocryphal "Shakespeare" whose name was a dirty joke *LOL*) It was ambiguous though, and a bit puzzling.

    I enjoyed this book, and I'm glad you did too.

  8. Trish - Scrumptious meal is a wonderful way to describe this book!

    Andi - You definitely should get this!

    Jenny - :) Spoilers feel necessary to really talk about this book, don't they?

    Kristen - I agree! It was so unique.

    Bethany - I have a feeling that like me you will adore this!

    Stephanie - Yep, I think that's overall how it breaks down. And I love the Shakespeare as dirty joke idea too!

  9. Hi there!

    I couldn't resist adding my two cents about the ending. I'll try to stay spoiler-free, but I will say this:


    Directly after the denouement you mentioned, pay close attention to the conversation between the captain and the mate while they are trying to wind the watch. That may give you a new insight into the ending. ;)

    There, that wasn't too bad, was it?

    Full disclosure...I have a great personal love for this book. *grin*

  10. Molly - I saw that with the 'it's all turned topsy-turvy' type of line. As time has passed since reading, I find myself less annoyed by the ending. I really think I was just sad that the story had to end because of my deep enjoyment of the book. Thanks for stopping by my blog!


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