One of the odd and unique interesting qualities of King Lear is its fantastic and vague setting in prehistoric Britain, that Shakespeare chose a tale of a king you couldn’t find in a list of the Kings and Queens of England, even while he gave the play something of a history play shape, with British Kings and princes, crises of succession and fighting with each other and France. But it isn’t a history play, it's based on a britannic myth that was already a myth in the middle ages, and the play is set around about some time in the misty, undocumented bog before Ethelwulf, Egbert and Offa, and after Arthur, but perhaps not, maybe it predates the Romans, maybe even the Celts? It's in a parallel timeline no doubt.
Paul Griffiths' most recent novel, let me tell you, is a spare work of engulfing mystery and power, although its technique is highly conceptual: he has set himself the task of telling Ophelia's story from her own point of view, using no more than the 483-word vocabulary Shakespeare allotted her in Hamlet. This is hardly the first time a modern writer has attempted to scatter new seeds in this corner of Shakespeare's garden, but few have approached it with Griffith's fluid imagination and verbal sophistication, a talent he has developed as much from his career as a music critic and historian as in the role of a literary man. Even a naive reader will be captivated by Griffiths' touching portrait of Ophelia, as she grows up in an ensnaring web spun by the habits, desires, and social obligations of her father, her brother, the queen, the old and new kings, and, of course, the Prince. But in this case, she is no victim. With her own native ingenuity and a healthy desire to survive, she finds a way out.