I’ve never liked Hamlet, and yet, I find that I really like retellings of the play. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead made me laugh and sparked a love of metafiction. I adore the first season of Slings and Arrows. But none of these Hamlets has left me as emotionally devastated as Lindsay Faye’s The King of Infinite Space. This astonishingly beautifully and wittily written version of the story, which transplants the story to modern New York City, softens Hamlet’s pretensions by giving him a better sense of humor while keeping the intellectual depth and complicated relationships. Faye also does utterly brilliant things with minor characters from Hamlet and other plays that had me marveling at her originality. This is one of the best books I can remember reading. I loved every page.
The King of Infinite Space opens with a dream—after all, what dreams might come?—in which Ben Dane meets his lost love, Lia. They’ve been apart for a long time, we learn, and never expected to see each other. They find each other in the burned ruins of the World’s Stage, a theater later rebuilt by Ben’s father. This dream sets the tone for the rest of the novel. We see Ben’s meandering and highly intellectual digressions and Lia’s powerful emotions, as well as get hints about how Faye is going to tweak elements of the original play to her own purposes. After the dream, we move into the waking world and meet Horatio. Ben’s greatest friend, who would do anything for him, is flying to New York because Ben is not doing well even a year after the sudden death of his father and the equally sudden remarriage of his mother, Trudy, to his uncle, Claude. When Horatio arrives, Ben tries to convince him that Jackson Dane was murdered. Something is rotten in the Dane family.
The original plot of Hamlet sprouts subplots. Lia, who is separated from Ben and the main action, is up to something with a trio of women who can do very strange, seemingly magical things with flowers. Robin Goodfellow pops up to sow discord wherever he goes. (What Faye does with Robin is utterly, incredibly genius.) There’s also the subplot that, for me, transformed the book from a much-better-than-average retelling of Hamlet into an emotionally shattering read. Horatio is not just Ben’s best friend. Horatio has been in love with Ben almost from the first time they met. Horatio and Ben shared a night, sometime before Ben’s father’s death, but Ben messed it up by trying to make their relationship go back to the way it was. Horatio bolted. Now that he’s back, every conversation they have crackles with the things they can’t bring themselves to say to each other. It’s clear to everyone—even Ben and Horatio—that they need each other and are desperately in love. Their dialogue includes lines that almost made me sob.
There are not enough adjectives for me to explain how much I loved The King of Infinite Space. I picked it up because I trust Faye’s writing abilities, even though, as I said, Hamlet is not my favorite. I am so glad I did. This book is going on my list of absolute favorites. Readers will need to have seen or read Hamlet (or at least skimmed the Wikipedia summary) to fully appreciate what Faye has created here. That said, I hope that many readers come across this book and that it moves them the way it moved me. I plan to do my bit by recommending it as widely as I can.
Lord, this is an amazing book.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.