Authors often get asked where they got the idea for a book. For me, at least, the answer is usually too much a mélange of inspirations and half-formulated thoughts to pinpoint one moment. But in the case of The Berkeley Square Affair
, I know exactly when the idea came to me. I was driving with my daughter Mélanie to the birthday party of the daughter of friends who was turning one (at the time Mélanie’s own first birthday party seemed far in the future, and she is now past two, which tells you something about the time that elapses between the genesis of a book and its publication). As I drove
the winding back road from West Marin, where we live, to the nearby town of Petaluma, I got the idea of my central couple, agents and husband and wife Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, having a peaceful night in their Berkeley Square library. The Napoleonic Wars are seemingly behind them, But then their friend, playwright Simon Tanner climbs through the window, bloody from an attack. Because he was bringing them a manuscript. A manuscript that might be an alternate version of Hamlet
. Of course, this being Malcolm and Suzanne’s world, the manuscript contains secrets beyond the identity of its author.
Malcolm and Suzanne have always liberally quoted Shakespeare. It's a sort of code—they can use quotes to express feelings they can't put into words for themselves. I've written scenes set at the theatre during performances of Shakespeare plays and even scenes at rehearsals, but I loved the idea of making a Shakespeare play a central part of my book and using Hamlet
seemed singularly appropriate as themes of fathers and sons, lovers who may be working for the enemy, and the younger generation unraveling the secrets of their parents tied into the next story I wanted to tell in Malcolm and Suzanne's world.
I was thinking recently about the myriad works of art that have a Hamlet
connection. Quotes from the play lend titles to work as diverse as Edmund Crispin's mystery The Glimpses of the Moon
and the comic adventure movie Outrageous Fortune
. Lee Blessing's play Fortinbras
picks up the story where
ends. A friend and I saw a workshop production in Greenwich Village of a musical that tells the story from Ophelia's POV. Lisa Klein's young adult novel Ophelia
is also a retelling from Ophelia's viewpoint. Michael Innes's wonderful mystery Hamlet, Revenge!
centers round a production of Hamlet
at a country house party. There are thematic echoes in countless books, movies, and television shows. The X-Files
come immediately to mind.Hamlet
, after all, is a story that can be enjoyed on a multiple levels. It is a political thriller, a psychological study, a coming of age story, a family drama, a tragic love story. It's themes dealing with the nature of life and death, power and love, parents and children grapple with core issues of human existence and can be analyzed endlessly. Yet, as a friend remarked to me at intermission during a wonderful production at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
, "I forget what a good story this is." Watching the play unfold, one finds oneself simply wanting to know what will happen next.
Do you have a favorite book inspired by Hamlet
or another work of literature? A favorite memory of seeing Hamlet?
Can you name other plays, books, and movies inspired by the story of the Prince of Denmark or that take their titles from quotes from the play?
Labels: Hamlet, Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, Teresa Grant, THe Berkeley Square Affair, Tracy Grant, William Shakespeare