A few weeks ago I asked for suggestions of novels that might make great films, TV series or plays. I promised to read the proposed books and consider how they might work on stage or on camera. (Sadly, I don’t have the expertise, facilities or funding to do the dramatisations myself. If only!)
One of the first I received was a novel called Ophelia Rising by Umberto Tosi, an American author whom I confess to knowing slightly via the Authors Electric blog, to which we both contribute every month. But just to make things clear, my review, like all my others, will be an unbiased one.
Ophelia Rising is a long book and I felt a little daunted when it first landed in my hallway with a mighty thud. But the cover drew me in, as all good covers should. The image is taken from a gouache-on-paper work of art called Ophelia’s Garden by Eleanor Spiess-Ferris. Its vivid colour and rich imagery offer a taste of the narrative inside and might well have tempted me to pick up the book and open it, even if I had not been sent a copy for review.
The Ophelia in question is the character from Hamlet, but Tosi takes his feisty heroine to places beyond Shakespeare’s dreams. In this tale, Ophelia is reprieved from the death by drowning devised for her by Shakespeare and escapes from Elsinore with a band of travelling players. She soon learns to play many roles, both on stage and off it, as the group, with its female playwright, tours Renaissance Europe and they encounter religious war and terror, sieges, separations, losses and hardships of all kinds. A film, I’m thinking here. All that drama, all those people, many of them real ones from history – and a central character who wins our affections early on and develops as she finds a way to live among it all – sometimes as a woman, sometimes as a man, always with courage and compassion and, once her baby son Ari comes on the scene, always as a mother, caring first and foremost for her child.
Often when I read historical fiction, or indeed any kind of fiction, I’m left wondering, ‘Yes, but who looked after the children while all that was going on?’ This is traditionally a criticism made of male authors, but I’ve caught some women writers doing it too – conveniently forgetting about the kids when the plot demanded it. Tosi never falls into that trap. Throughout all her adventures, Ophelia is always first and foremost a mother, and this to me is one of the deep strengths of the novel, as well as the lynchpin of Ophelia’s character.
My favourite real character in the book is the eccentric and ridiculously wealthy astronomer, Tycho Brahe. I never knew Tycho had a prosthetic nose – or that he had connections with the Danish monarchy of Hamlet’s day (yes, I know Hamlet was fictional, but you know what I mean). I first ‘met’ Tycho Brahe at school when I did a science project on Johannes Kepler, who used Tycho’s astronomical data to do ground-breaking work on the orbits of the planets, paving the way for Isaac Newton’s work. Kepler comes into the book too, as Tycho’s assistant, rather engagingly devising puzzles for the palace children to solve.
Historical detail is not included for its own sake or merely to impress – it all forms part of the story – but if like me your knowledge of Renaissance Europe is not all it should be, you’ll find yourself effortlessly learning a great deal along the way.
Tosi’s writing style is addictive and utterly his own. He piles up adjectives until they topple over, not into confusion but into a glorious flurry not unlike the stuff that dreams are made of (wrong play but who cares). Incidentally, a character called Will, a young unknown English playwright whose surname Ophelia cannot remember, makes a brief appearance too.
At other times, when the story needs it, Tosi can pare down his style and write with a punch. He’s a master of style.
The tale has pace, drama, strong characters and a sense of authenticity. It’s a superb book and in the right hands I’ve no doubt it would make a brilliant film, or maybe a TV drama in several parts.
Hope someone’s listening out there!
Title: Ophelia Rising
Author: Umberto Tosi
Publisher: Light Fantastic Publishing, Chicago, IL, USA
Year of Publication: 2014
Please keep your suggestions coming in! Feel free to suggest any book – someone else’s or your own. I promise to read all of them, within the limits of time availability and acceptability of content, and to review on here those I feel would make good TV, plays or films. I may also post shortened versions of my reviews on Amazon or elsewhere.
All best wishes,