Hamlet, Sarcastic Classics

Hamlet Act 3, Scene 1

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I’m back! After a brief hiatus for NaNoWriMo it’s time to return to Denmark and our old pal Hamlet, who I’m sure is handling things in a mature and reasoned manner. *cough*

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are reporting their findings to Claudius and they’ve managed to figure out…exactly nothing. They have no clue why Hamlet is being so weird and moody because Hamlet won’t tell them why. He’s a tricksy one, that young Hamlet. Claudius asks Gertrude, who is there doing not-a-whole-lot, to go away so he and Polonius can play spies (Polonius has dibs on playing James Bond). Before she goes she tells Ophelia that she hopes that Ophelia being beautiful is the reason he has gone mad, which is a compliment apparently? Ophelia is given a prayer book and effectively told to ‘act natural’, which in any other context always leads to hijinks, but in Hamlet leads to soliloquising.

We have a brief speech from Claudius where he admits his guilt to the audience in case you hadn’t quite caught on yet, and then Hamlet arrives to give The Speech. You know, that one. It’s been analysed to death but it essentially boils down to “Ugh, life sucks. I wish I was dead so I wouldn’t have to make decisions and do things. But death might also suck. Ugh, why is my life so hard?” (In my imagination this speech is given by Napoleon Dynamite)

When he’s done (it takes a while) Ophelia tries to give him back the love letters and gifts he gave her. Hamlet decides that this is the appropriate time to discuss the connection between beauty and goodness, which is essentially just thinly veiled excuse to call Ophelia a whore. He says that all women act deceivingly by “prancing” and putting on makeup, confirming that Hamlet would absolutely be the type of guy who buys into the “take girls swimming on a first date” mentality. You really have to wonder how much of this is his mad ‘act’ and how much he just genuinely hates women, because he is venomous. He says that she should never get married because she’d just cheat on her husband so she should just become a nun. He finishes by saying that no-one should get married because women are evil before leaving to finish the next chapter on his My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanfiction (I imagine).

Ophelia is understandably distraught by this. She thought that Hamlet loved her; he claimed that he never did. Mostly she’s sad because Hamlet used to be intelligent and thoughtful and admired and now he’s a shadow of his former self, ranting and raving and foaming at the mouth at the mere mention of a woman.

Polonius, as always, is the perfect father, telling her that they heard that entire incredibly private conversation and offering absolutely no comfort. He and Claudius are only interested in one thing; Hamlet’s definitely not crazy with love for Ophelia, so his madness must be something more dangerous. Their solution? Put this possibly dangerous lunatic in a room with his mother! Oh Polonius, your genius never ceases to amaze me.

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Hamlet, Sarcastic Classics

Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2, Part 2

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This scene is super long, so here’s Part 1 of the review. Now on to Part 2!

Enter Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They share some surprisingly upbeat banter with Mr Grumpypants – catching up, a bit of innuendo, Hamlet calls Fortune a whore, general schoolboy stuff – before Hamlet returns to form and calls Denmark a prison. Ah, there’s our guy.

Hamlet immediately assumes that R & G have been sent to spy on him, which seems a little paranoid. I mean, he’s right, but can’t someone just drop in for a nice chat? Besides, he has no more evidence than “Denmark sucks so why would anyone want to come here?” The conversation continues in this jolly vein when he admits that he just doesn’t find any joy in life anymore and can’t even muster up enthusiasm for people or sex. Rosencrantz tries to cheer him up by telling him that a troupe of actors are on the way, and they’re Hamlet’s favourites because they do tragedies and it’s suddenly clear that Hamlet’s always been a mopy morbid sod. The actors arrive at court (convenient timing) and Hamlet greets them, interestingly referring to his “uncle-father and aunt-mother” – more indication of his obsession with their ‘incestual’ relationship – and claiming that he’s only mad sometimes.

A quick aside: is what Hamlet’s telling R & G about his mental state the truth? He knows they’re spying on him for the King, so he could very well be lying to them. It does seem to match up with his behaviour though, at least in regards to his depression, but is what he says about being intermittently mad an admittance of his actual mental state or a carefully placed lie so R & G report it to Claudius as part of his plan? When Polonius enters he immediately resumes his crazy-schtick and talks about Ophelia more, so he’s clearly performing to an extent, but it seems weird that he would let R & G see him more lucid.

The actors enter and Hamlet asks them to perform a speech from a play he saw them do based on the Trojan war. In the speech, Phyrrus, son of Achilles, brutally kills the Trojan King Priam to avenge the death of his father as the distraught Queen Hecuba looks on; the parallels with Hamlet/Phyrrus, Hamlet Sr./Achilles, Claudius/Priam and Gertrude/Hecuba are almost too obvious. He then asks them to perform for the Court the next night and requests the play The Murder of Gonzago, but with an additional scene he will write himself. Clearly someone has a plan.

Hamlet’s finally left alone. He bemoans his awful situation but seems awfully aware that despite swearing revenge he hasn’t actually done anything yet. Hamlet’s indecisiveness is a major point in the play, but I can’t say I blame him; killing someone is a major deal, especially if the only reason you know they deserve killing is because a possibly fake ghost told you.

I once heard it said that Hamlet’s indecisiveness is not a ‘fatal flaw’ so to speak (a tradition in tragedy is for the hero to suffer from a major fault that inevitably brings about their own downfall. Eddie from Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge is an excellent example of this.), but that he’s merely in the wrong story. If he swapped places with Othello, for example, Othello’s brash action would have solved Hamlet’s problem immediately, whereas Hamlet’s thoughtfulness and caution would have prevented the tragedy that happens in Othello. As it is though, his insistence on waiting before acting allows events to be set in motion that all culminate in a lot of death at the end of the play.

This soliloquy covers a lot of that material. Hamlet knows that he should act, but there’s always the possibility that Claudius is innocent. Hamlet doesn’t entirely trust that the ghost was actually his father and not just a demon trying to cause trouble, so he needs the confirmation. He decides to use the play to test Claudius’ guilt by having the theatre troupe act out a murder just like the ghost told him Hamlet Sr. was murdered (dripping poison in the ear). He’ll watch Claudius’ reaction and if he flinches then Hamlet will know for sure that he’s guilty. It’s a good idea for finding out the truth, but it’s a pretty specific murder so there’s always the possibility that Claudius will cotton on. Still, at least things are starting to move along…

 

Hamlet, Sarcastic Classics

Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2, Part 1

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This scene’s a long’un, so I’ll be splitting it into two parts for the sake of your sanity.

Having realised that Hamlet’s behaviour isn’t exactly normal (and that’s before they find out about his visit to Ophelia and the fact that he’s not wearing a hat!), Claudius and Gertrude have summoned Hamlet’s childhood friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to ask if they notice a worrying change in his behaviour and if they can get through to him. Gertrude says that “sure I am two men there are not living / To whom he more adheres”, but I’m sure that the Hamlet/Horatio stans would have something to say about that! Seriously though, Hamlet hasn’t really seen these two since he was young and seems more irritated by their presence than anything and he *SPOILER* later sends them to their deaths without a second thought, so it’s possible that Gertrude just doesn’t know her son very well.

It’s not really relevant to the play because it’s not part of the main canon, but I have a soft spot for R & G because of Tom Stoppard’s wonderful play Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which imagines what R & G get up to between scenes and is deliciously meta.. If you haven’t come across it I would highly recommend seeking out a production or just reading the book because it’s hilarious and extremely clever. There’s also the film version with Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, but I haven’t seen it and have heard it’s dire, so watch that at your own peril.

They leave to find Hamlet just as Polonius arrives with the news that Hamlet’s crazy may have been upgraded to full-on cray-cray. First though, a brief interlude from Norway courtesy of the Norwegian ambassadors: remember Fortinbras? I didn’t. Last we heard Claudius had written a strongly worded letter to the King of Norway telling him to get his nephew under control, which seems like a hilarious under-reaction to someone declaring war on you. Still, it seems to have worked, because Fortinbras was arrested and given a good finger wagging. Fortinbras said sorry, which is apparently good enough for the Norwegian king because he puts him in charge of troops and order him to march them through Denmark to invade Poland. I can only conclude from this that the Norwegian king is an idiot. Claudius doesn’t seem to see any problem with the man who swore to take over Denmark entering the country with hundreds of soldiers and agrees to the arrangement. I can only conclude that Claudius is also an idiot. Okay, you can forget about Fortinbras again, back to Hamlet. Polonius pulls out a letter Hamlet has written to Ophelia. It’s mostly bad poetry and some mildly racy things about bosoms; average teenage boy love-letter stuff, but according to Polonius it’s a sign that Hamlet has really gone off the deep end. Claudius and Gertrude are only kind of convinced, but Polonius insists that because he’s loyal and honest it’s impossible for him to be mistaken.

Polonius pulls out a letter Hamlet has written to Ophelia. It’s mostly bad poetry and some mildly racy things about bosoms; average teenage boy love-letter stuff, but according to Polonius it’s a sign that Hamlet has really gone off the deep end. Claudius and Gertrude are only kind of convinced but Polonius insists that because he’s honest and truthful it’s entirely impossible for him to be wrong.

Hamlet enters reading – a true sign of madness! – and Polonius puts on his detective hat to get to the bottom of it. He then has a conversation with Hamlet that is a combination of Hamlet subtly insulting Polonius (he mistakes him for a fish seller and says that all old men have “a plentiful lack of wit” and weak legs) and Hamlet just saying the first death-related thing that comes into his head, including kissing dog corpses and jumping into his own grave. Polonius is weirdly impressed by Hamlet; he seems to think that there’s great wisdom behind the madness, but it reminds me more of a very morbid version of that XD LOL SO RANDOM humour phase we all went through as tweens. Hamlet also makes a peculiar comment about not letting Ophelia walk outside in case she gets pregnant which Polonius obviously takes as confirmation that he is obsessed with his daughter.

I know this is already a long post, but I just want to finish by pointing out Hamlet’s attitude to Ophelia. Polonius is creepy about Ophelia’s sexuality because he’s her father and is ridiculously protective of her, but Hamlet is possibly even more weird about her; just wait until we get to the Play Scene where things get equal parts saucy and repulsive. There are a couple of possibilities why depending on whether you think Hamlet’s really mad or not. It could just be Mad Hamlet being Mad Hamlet, or it could be Sane Hamlet’s anger at his mother’s perceived adultery (by marrying Claudius so soon after Hamlet Sr.’s death) turning into a distrust of womankind in general. Or it could be a combination of the two, with Mad Hamlet inadvertently projecting his feelings about his mother onto Ophelia. With Ophelia and Gertrude being the only two women in the play it’s hard to tell how Hamlet feels about women generally, but whatever it is poor Ophelia has to bear the brunt of it and it sucks.

And things are only going to get worse…

Book Reviews, Reviews

The Sun and her Flowers Review

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Rupi Kaur’s first book of poetry, Milk and Honey, was one of those books that took the Internet Book community by storm when it came out. It was a regular feature in Bookstagram posts, mainly for the gorgeous illustrations (also done by Kaur) that accompany the poems. So I was surprised that there hasn’t been more hype around the release of Kaur’s second book which is equally as vibrant and beautiful as the first.

Kaur’s poems are the kind I like best, with a lot of emotional heart and personal connection. She draws inspiration from throughout her life, splitting the poems into themes: “wilting” (moving on from a failed relationship), “falling” (depression), “rooting” (her mother’s experiences as an immigrant and in her marriage), “rising” (a new relationship and falling in love) and “blooming” (feminism and femininity). Sectioning her work like this does mean that reading chronologically can get slightly repetitive, but that just means that The Sun and her Flowers works best as a book to dip into.

Her poems range from a couple of pages to just one line, but she mostly works in short stanzas that focus on one emotion or thought at a time and it creates some beautiful ideas that float on the page but don’t linger too long. They’re accompanied by line drawings that are incredibly simple but somehow lyrical and sit alongside the poems to emphasise the themes and emotions.

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It’s very difficult to write about or review poetry without either becoming too technical – clinical, even – or focusing too much on the emotions you felt while reading. I can only say therefore that anyone, but especially women, should absolutely go and find a copy of either this or Milk and Honey and just lose yourself in it.

Hamlet, Sarcastic Classics

Hamlet Act 2 Scene 1

 

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I’m just going to say it: Polonius kind of sucks. It wasn’t enough for him to be weird about Ophelia’s virginity; now he’s upgraded to helicopter parenting. He’s sending someone to spy on Laertes while he’s away at university and has come up with an overly complicated plan to find out if Laertes is actually studying or if he’s drinking and gambling, otherwise known as ‘being a student’, with added prostitutes.

To support my intention to start the Polonius Sucks club (we have badges) here’s how William Hazlitt, writer and literary critic aka. someone who actually knows what they’re talking about, describes Polonius:

“a busy-body, [who] is accordingly officious, garrulous, and impertinent”

About the nicest thing that Hazlitt says about Polonius is that he’s “sincere”, which I suppose can be a good thing but when combined with the unrestrained desire to interfere with literally everything doesn’t really help. In different productions he’s been portrayed as varyingly doddering, scheming or Bill Murray. At the very least he’s definitely been taken in by Claudius, and certain versions have gone so far as to have him actively collude with Claudius in the killing of Hamlet Sr. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what you think; it doesn’t make too much of a difference to the overall story, but different interpretations can provide some nice nuance to later scenes.

Back to the scene: Polonius has just sent the servant off when Ophelia comes running in, terrified, giving Polonius another chance to display his A+ parenting. She had been sewing upstairs when Hamlet came in in a complete state, looking “As if he had been loosèd out of hell”, and even worse – he’s not wearing a hat!!! Polonius decides that turning up at your sort-of-girlfriend’s house with dirty socks means that he’s “Mad for thy love”, and it’s now the standard to which I’m going to hold all future suitors.

Hamlet’s making good on his promise to act mad: he walks into Ophelia’s room, grabs her by the arm and then just stares at her for a while before leaving while maintaining intense eye contact the entire time. Just imagining that scene made me giggle, although I do feel for poor Ophelia, who seems to bear the brunt of his mad act(?).

Ever wise Polonius thinks that it was Ophelia rejecting Hamlet’s letters – on Polonius’ orders because Hamlet is obviously a sex fiend, remember? – that sent him crazy. It’s important to remember that Shakespeare was writing during an age where courtly chivalry was idolised, because the concept of “love me or I’ll go crazy” doesn’t really appeal to me, but maybe I’m just fussy (seriously though, run far far away from anyone who says that). Polonius decides to tell Claudius and drags Ophelia along too, which would be the only sensible he’d made in this entire scene if Hamlet were actually mad and if Claudius weren’t a murderer. You tried, Polonius, you tried.

 

NaNoWriMo, Writing Stuff

How to Prep for NaNoWriMo 2017

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It’s that time of year again when NaNoWriMo approaches, looming on the horizon like a Grim Reaper for your social life. Back in 2015 I wrote some ‘helpful advice’ that mostly involved things like hooking yourself up to an IV drip of coffee and learning how to live without human interaction, but there were a few useful tidbits in there. This year I’m older and wiser (ha!) and so I thought I’d compound my infinite wisdom into something that might actually be useful.

So here are my top tips for prepping for the coming storm, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month or, more affectionately, Hell Month.

  • Get familiar with your writing patterns. Are you more productive first thing in the morning, or last thing at night? Do you like writing in a coffee shop or holed up in your room? In a group or by yourself? Knowing your patterns means you can carve out your writing time when it suits you and you won’t have to struggle to make yourself write. Your NaNo experience will be a lot less stressful if you know your rhythms, and you’re more likely to hit that sweet 50k.
  • Find your mental writing space. It doesn’t matter where you write; what’s important is that you’re in the right headspace to comfortably concentrate and be creative. Stick in some headphones and listen to that album that always pumps you up. Find an ambient soundscape to help you relax (I really like the Hogwarts common room ones you can find on this site). Sit properly at a desk, or in your favourite comfy chair, or wherever you like as long as you’re comfortable. Half the battle with writing is getting yourself to a place where your creativity can flourish.
  • Plan in the way that works best for you. Of course, that could mean absolutely no planning at all, or a colour coded binder detailing every scene from beginning to end. Personally, I like character sheets like this one I posted back in 2015, and then I write a few sentences to a paragraph on the basic outline for the story. There is no right way to plan; the way that’s most helpful to you is the right way.
  • Get connected with like-minded people. My first experience of NaNo was one of the most wonderously bizzare scenarios possible: a group of stressed out, sleep deprived writers all sat in a public space typing furiously while surrounded by an assortment of fruit (was the fruit as an identifier at the first meet-up just a South Yorkshire thing or is it international? I took a melon and named her Barbara.). If that sounds like your cup of tea, get on your Home Region page to find events organized in your area. If not, get on there anyway! It’s nice to know there are other people just as crazy as you, even if as far as you’re concerned they look like the anime character in their avatar. Then there are the forums that are an amazing resource even outside of November, offering everything from opening lines to adopt to advice on closing plot holes to general encouragement. There’s something for everyone in there, even people who don’t want to venture out of their caves and interact with real human beings.
  • Aziz Ansari says it best:

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         Set realistic goals and reward yourself for reaching them. I like chocolate every 1000 words – other varieties of treat are available. Whether it’s an episode of your favourite show once you’ve reached your daily word goal or popping that prosecco when you hit the big 5k (drink responsibly kids!), finding something to keep you tapping away at the keyboard can be a lifesaver when motivation is low.

And finally:

  • Enjoy the NaNo experience. Yes, NaNo can be stressful and okay, you might cry occasionally, but if you’re not enjoying yourself then why are you doing it? The NaNo experience is a wild ride of creative buzz and caffeine haze, and it’s so much fun. Embrace the crazy, and at the end of it you’ll have something that may not be great, but will have so much potential.
Hamlet, Sarcastic Classics

Hamlet – Act I, Scene V

 

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This week’s header comic is by Kate Beaton, of Hark, a Vargrant! who is wonderful and I recommend you check out right now.

Now they’re alone, Hamlet demands to know just what the ghost is playing at and it reveals itself to be his father…or so he says. If you take the text at face value then sure, but as I said in the last post Elizabethan audiences knew not to just trust when strange ghosts told you they were your father. Mr. Ghosty claims he’s stuck suffering in Purgatory and wants vengeance on the scoundrel that murdered him.

Murder? This is news to Hamlet. High death rates and lack of medical knowledge meant that it wasn’t particularly surprising when old Hamlet Sr. croaked, even though he’d been apparently healthy just before. It also meant that poisoning was much easier to get away with, and that’s exactly what the ghost claims killed him. As for who carried out this “Murder most foul”, the ghost points the finger at his own brother. Apparently – emphasis on apparently – Claudius seduced Gertrude, then dripped poison in Hamlet Sr.’s ear while he slept, claiming “my life, my crown, and my queen all at once”. Worst of all, because he was murdered Hamlet Sr. didn’t have a chance to repent of his sins or recieve last rites so he’s stuck in Purgatory, which by all accounts is not a Nice Place.

A brief history aside: at the time Denmark’s monarch was not dictated by hereditary succession like the English crown was, but was chosen by Parliament (interestingly known at the time as their ‘Thing’). They usually stuck with the traditional way of the first born son succeeding their father, but if a preferable alternative was available they could diverge from this. There are lines throughout the play that suggest that Hamlet Sr. had indicated that the country should pass to Gertrude when he died (she’s described as “the imperial jointress to this warlike state”) and because this is Ye Olde Olden Days when women were obviously too weak and stupid to own things they would pass on to any future husbands she may have i.e. Claudius. Add the fact that Hamlet was out of the country at University when his father died and it would seem reasonable for the ‘Thing’ to decide that Claudius was a good choice for the new king. All very convenient for Claudius, is it not?

It’s also very convenient for Hamlet, who is the President of the Anti-Claudius Club. If you’re a supporter of the Mad Hamlet theory then the man you resent for stepping into your father’s shoes, marrying your mother and trying to play Dad also turning out to be a conniving murderous snake seems a little too opportune. That said, it is worth noting that Claudius did actually murder his brother (spoiler alert), so it’s possible that Hamlet is just an unusually good judge of character.

Dawn arrives and the ghost vanishes, leaving Hamlet with instructions to avenge him. Hamlet swears to do so, and gets off to an interesting start when his first step is to write down in his little notebo that “one may smile, and smile, and be a villain”. Clearly he’s new to this whole revenge thing.

Horatio and Marcellus arrive and ask what happened with the ghost, but Hamlet isn’t much more forthcoming than ‘bad people are bad’ and then makes them swear not to tell anyone what they’ve seen. They do, but Hamlet is weirdly insistent that they swear on his sword. Then begins a weird almost slapstick sequence where the voice of the ghost follows them around from under the stage, although interestingly the others don’t seem to be able to hear it. Ghostly powers of telepathy or a sign of a cracked mind? You decide.

The friends are obviously concerned by this odd behaviour, and Hamlet muses that playing crazy might be a useful trick to have up his sleeve. Clearly we’re in for crazy shenanigans in the future. Tune in next time on this wacky family drama!

Book Reviews, Reviews

Our Numbered Days Review

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I was introduced to Neil Hilborn by a friend during my I Hate Poetry phase that I had in high school, and I credit him with providing the turning point when I realised just how stupid and stubborn I was being.

Hilborn writes mostly from his own experiences with a heavy focus on mental illness. He’s found a cult following amongst those with their own struggles and as one of their number I can absolutely see why. Hilborn is refreshingly honest throughout his poetry. It’s definitely not all sunshine and puppies because mental illness isn’t like that and it’s wonderful to hear someone expressing that instead of trying to paint over the painful moments. Our Numbered Days embodies one of my favourite quotes from Alan Bennett’s The History Boys:

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met […] And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”

But he doesn’t fall into the very common trap – which I know I have – of writing about depression as though everything and everyone is terrible with the paradoxical sense of superiority that can only come from feeling worthless (for examples of this see The Catcher in the Rye, or literally anything ever written by a teenager). Hilborn comes across as a man who knows that the world is good even if he can’t feel it. His work is punctuated with moments of true hope and emotion, and many of his poems had me bawling. I would be interested to hear what someone without experience of mental illness makes of his work seeing as how deeply rooted a lot of his poems are.

Hilborn’s style manages to be sophisticated without seeming pretentious or overworked. Reading his work feels like talking to a friend, albeit one who has a wonderful way with metaphors (and boy does he have some beautiful ones. Plus there’ll always be a place in my heart for the “slutty chicken” simile.) His roots in slam poetry are evident in his writing, but this works to create a personal connection with the reader rather than being distracting. That said, if you have the chance to see him read his work I would absolutely recommend you leap at it. I had the pleasure of hearing him at the Bullingdon in Oxford at the end of August and he is a brilliant performer as well as one of the funniest people I’ve met.

To finish, here are two of Hilborn’s poems. The first is OCD, his most popular poem and the one that went viral to gain him his following. It’s based on his own experiences with the illness and is a captivating performance from him (and it’s just as spellbinding in real life):

The second is The Future, which isn’t in Our Numbered Days but is my absolute favourite of his. It’s another personal look at his struggles with Bipolar Disorder, and the final note of hope never fails to make me cry.

Book Reviews, Reviews

The Psychopath Test Review

 

 

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Believe it or not, I’m actually reviewing a book on this book blog! Shocking, I know.

When I tell people I’m interested in true crime, I usually have to follow that up with the caveat that I’m not a serial-killer-in-training or one of those naïve weirdos who think they can change mass murderers through the Power of Love. My main fascination with the subject lies in the psychology behind it: what circumstances would drive someone to do something so abhorrent, how the police use profiling to catch a criminal, and how the justice system deals with people who have done awful things but might not be entirely accountable for their actions.

The Psychopath Test focuses, as the title suggests, on psychopaths i.e: people who feel little to no emotion or empathy. It’s a mental illness that has caused a lot of divide in the psychiatric community, and that’s just amongst those who believe it is a mental illness. Ronson approaches the subject very openly, talking to a wide range of sources from Robert Hare, the man who developed the list of criteria currently used to diagnose psychopaths, to CEOs he believes may have utilised their psychopathic tendencies to climb the corporate ladder, to Scientologists who believe that psychology and those who practice it are evil and corrupt. Possibly the most interesting is ‘Tony’, a man who claimed to have faked insanity to get out of prison for a GBH charge and ended up in Broadmoor diagnosed as a psychopath and desperately trying to prove his sanity. Tony’s story is an intriguing look into the nuances of the psychology, how difficult it is to really quantify mental illness with a series of boxes to check, and how terrifyingly easy it would be to get it wrong and ruin someone’s life. (As it turns out, Tony’s diagnosis may not have been so entirely wrong. Ronson revealed in an AMA on Reddit that Tony has been incarcerated at least three more times since he met him.)

It’s common for people writing about mental illness who don’t have experience of it to become hysterical and fall into the trap of fear-mongering, but Ronson thankfully has a much more sympathetic approach. He himself struggles with anxiety, so he’s aware of how mental illness can affect the way you think and act and doesn’t place blame with the sufferers. There are a few places where he clearly begins to think of psychopaths as ‘other’, especially when he’s in the presence of Emmanuel ‘Toto’ Constant (founder of the Hatian death squad FRAPH), but interestingly he catches himself doing this and turns it into a very interesting discussion point. It’s a much more sympathetic approach than many journalists would take to the mentally ill and criminals, and I find this open mind set much more enjoyable to explore the subject through.

I have a lot of love for Ronson’s style as he explores all of these issues. It’s light and friendly, and it doesn’t feel like he is trying to push an agenda; instead it feels more like he’s leading you on a treasure hunt for information, taking you on the same journey of discovery he went on because he found it fascinating and hopes you will too. There’s no opening statement telling you how you should be approaching the book, just the story of how Ronson himself was introduced to it and how that story progressed. It’s my favourite style of non-fiction and Ronson’s witty voice makes it a highly entertaining read.

There is a distinct lack of satisfying conclusion which I can see as being irritating for some people, like this reviewer for the Guardian comments, but for me the lack of certainty is part of the fascinating quality of the subject. It seems a little unfair to ask Ronson, a journalist, to answer questions that generations of trained professionals have failed to agree on. However, I can understand that this sort of open-ended investigation may not be for anyone, so if you want any kind of conclusive answers then this may be one to avoid.

This is the first I’ve read of Ronson’s work and I am absolutely going to be seeking out more. The Psychopath Test manages to balance information with effortlessly readable style and leaves you with a lot to think about, which for me is the mark of an excellent piece of journalism. There aren’t always easy answers, but investigation for the thrill of the chase will almost always provide an entertaining read.