Classic tales with a twist

19th October 2007 at 01:00
Readers review novels that retell classic stories for key stage 3.Ophelia. Lisa M Klein. Bloomsbury pound;5.99.

Staying true to the play, and developing and extending Ophelia's role prior to and beyond the events of Hamlet, Lisa Klein's narrator is plausible and engaging. Her story develops swiftly and is coloured with the language and imagery of Shakespeare, in addition to effective period details. Sometimes, however, action speeds on disconcertingly, as if the plot has mastered the writer, yet most episodes are controlled and crafted.

In the latter stages, an innocent reader will not suspect the re-stitching of the original Shakespearean plot, though those hoping to use this as a substitute for reading Hamlet need to know that the sojourn in a convent and confinement are grafted on. Likewise, the ending may unsettle those who come to the story with some knowledge of the play.

This is more conceited than deceitful and provides an acceptable, if slightly dissatisfying, resolution.

Billed as "a passionate and heartbreaking tale of forbidden love", Lisa Klein's prose is breathless faux-Shakespeare. Her work may struggle to establish an audience of its own or rise above the criticisms of those who would censure it because it is not what they really want. It may not survive "the whips and scorns of time", yet it is not without charm and would be suitable for eager readers of 12 and upwards.

Simon Murray teaches at Tong High School, Bradford

Here Lies Arthur. Philip Reeve. Scholastic pound;12.99.

This is a wonderful and ingenious reworking of the legend of Arthur, which deserves to be in the library of every school.

Britain is on the point of being submerged by a wave of aggressive Saxons. Nothing stands in their way but Arthur, who has pretensions to being king. Ancient Britain comes across as a land of opportunist chiefs who lack his vision. There is no hope but that of the might of Arthur - or at least that is how he sees it.

One of the strengths of the book is its portrayal of Arthur. There is nothing noble about him, as he seeks to extract tribute from the chiefs.

An arranged marriage conveniently falls apart and he is shown in his true colours, as brutal and almost misogynistic, as he disposes of his wife's lover. The contrast with the heroic Arthur of the legend could not be stronger.

The story is told through the eyes of Gwyna, a girl at the start of the story, but who changes sex and role as the story develops. She makes a number of exquisite points about the roles, not only of boys and girls in the past, but of adults as well. In a classroom setting this would certainly have a modern resonance and lead to a number of interesting discussion points

Og Owen teaches history at the Bishop of Hereford's Bluecoat School in Hereford.

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