“One Big Damn Puzzler” by John Harding

Is be or is be not, is be one big damn puzzler.

An old man, amputee through the efforts of an abandoned US minefield, is the only literate person on an isolated island. He is attempting to translate Hamlet into the local Pidgin English, to produce a play.

The novel is compelling and delightful. It would be better to go into this with a basic knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays – there are magic potions, transformations, memories of wars, and an old man’s daughter – but it’s not neccesary.

Harding has woven literature and the personal history of one American Lawyer into an amusing look at how the best of intentions always seem to create a much larger mess.

The edition I brought home from work has an “exclusive reading group material” at the back. Three pages that include a brief note from the author, and a series of questions apparently aimed at high-school or primary students.

For example; “How many of Shakespeare’s plays can you find referred to, either directly or indirectly, in the book?”

The cover art of the 2006 Black Swan version is gorgeous, and I found this one of the few general adult fiction novels that could hold my atttention invariably until the end. I find myself mentioning it to many people in passing, and honestly have no complaints to make about any of the prose itself.


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