The Cake House, by Latifah Salom

After complaining (a lot) about anyone having the nerve to describe Cymbeline as “William Shakespeare's undiscovered masterpiece” and reviewing Jenny Trout's Romeo and Juliet/Hamlet-inspired Such Sweet Sorrow, we're concluding our totally unplanned rush of Shakespeare-themed posts with a review of Latifah Salom's debut novel The Cake House.

The Cake House is a loose adaptation of Hamlet, featuring a teenage girl in the Hamlet role and moved to modern-day Southern California. Rosaura Douglas's life changed completely after her father's suicide. Her mother promptly remarried, and Rosaura has suddenly acquired a wealthy, indulgent stepfather, Claude, and a moody stepbrother, Alex. Claude is almost aggressively generous with Rosaura and her mother, but Rosaura can't ignore her sense that something is terribly wrong—or the ghost of her father, who keeps popping up with dire warnings that Claude cannot be trusted.

Salom does a convincing job of adapting Hamlet into the story of a deeply damaged teenage girl, but her borrowed set-up creates its own problems. Hamlet is one of the many Shakespearean characters whom I find most sympathetic when seen from a slight remove—I pity his situation, sure, but that doesn't mean I'd care to spend much time in his obsessive, paranoid, self-pitying head. As The Cake House is told entirely from Rosaura's point of view, we see everything from her perspective... and frankly, her perspective is alternately creepy, tragic, and cringe-inducing. I frequently found myself wishing the story had been told either via third person narration, or from a variety of first-person perspectives. Either choice would have downplayed Salom's biggest weakness (Rosaura's overly artistic “crazy person” internal dialogue), and allowed me see a more nuanced picture of the other characters, all of whom I found genuinely interesting.

Despite its flaws, The Cake House is an impressive debut: creative, memorable, and extremely well-executed. I have no idea what Salom will do next, but I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for her future work, and I'm thrilled that our Unintentional Shakespearean Extravaganza is ending on such a high note.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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