‘Lynne and I finished our lockdown reading of Hamlet’ by Oliver Cross

SPOILER ALERT.  Lynne and I finished our lockdown reading of Hamlet, in which, as I’ve explained earlier, we declaimed every line of the play loudly in the garden, putting some of our neighbours to flight.

It’s a play neither of us knew fully before we started the reading, although everybody knows a lot of because it’s packed with quotations which can be useful if, like Hamlet, you find  yourself in a serious fix.

Random examples include ‘To thine own self be true’, ‘listen to many, speak to a few’ and ‘conscience doth make cowards of us all’, not to mention ‘to be or not to be’, which becomes especially relevant during pandemic-related depressive incidents.

Anyway, the spoiler alert is for people who might think it a good idea to follow our lead. Without going into details, you must realise that Hamlet ends really, really badly, worse even than you would expect a Shakespearian Tragedy to end. Don’t start it unless you think you’re hard enough.

My other lockdown reading has been mainly confined to the third part of Hilary Mantel’s fictional trilogy on the life of Thomas Cromwell, The Mirror and the Light, which, at 882 pages, doesn’t leave much time for anything else.

The first two  books in the trilogy each won the Man Booker Prize, although I think Mantel’s bigger achievement is that now, when you hear the name Cromwell, you’re quite likely to think of Thomas rather than the previously much-more-famous Oliver.

Thomas Cromwell deserves the promotion because he was a self-made administrative genius who had a huge hand in shaping the modern English state. You cheer him on throughout the Mantel trilogy, because he is a blacksmith’s son who outwits the richest and oldest families in the land – something you appreciate particularly when you find yourself ruled by old Etonians.

Unfortunately, his fate was largely in the hands of Henry VIII, so it doesn’t need a spoiler alert to tell you that he ended up in a very similar place to Prince Hamlet, or, even more so, Anne Boleyn.

Another book I’ve read during lockdown is Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which obviously doesn’t end well for Roger Ackroyd, although there is a lot of deductive fun to be had along the way.

It ends with a very fine twist that makes you want to stand up and clap, like you’re applauding key workers, although, when you think about it more closely, the plot doesn’t make much more sense than Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

In both cases the authors’ achievement is to keep you reading, even when your better judgment tells you would be better off planting seeds or clearing the shed.

Written by Oliver Cross