One-Minute Book Reviews

August 28, 2008

Review of Oprah’s Latest Book Club Pick, ‘The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,’ the First Novel by David Wroblewski

Get thee to a kennel! A mute boy named Edgar finds his Ophelia in a dog named Almondine in story set in a hamlet in Wisconsin

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel. By David Wroblewski. Ecco, 562 pp., $25.95.

By Janice Harayda

To read, or not to read
The Edgar Sawtelle book
That is the question.
Whether ’tis nobler
In the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of
Outrageous twaddle,
And moralizing, too,
In sections told just from
The point of view of dogs,
One of them a stand-in
For Ophelia herself —
Her name is Almondine —
Because this novel is
A sort of canine Hamlet
That’s set in — of all places —
A hamlet in Wisconsin,
Or nobler to skip
A story you might like
Especially if you miss
The big, fat novels that
James Michener used to write.
To read, perchance to find
That this is your dream book:
Ay, there’s the rub!
Unless you are seeking
The kind of happy ending
That Hamlet doesn’t have
Because the author doesn’t give you
What you don’t find in the play:
A tale where no one dies.
It’s true, the book is not
The play in any way.
No poison-tipped sword looms,
A syringe is used instead.
And as for Rosenkrantz
and Guildenstern, his friend,
Like Ophelia
They have four feet and fur,
Though Hamlet is a boy, mute,
The Edgar of the title,
Who sees his father’s ghost,
A paranormal twist
In Edgar’s earthbound-life.
Morosely, Hamlet said –
Remember? – that conscience
Makes cowards of us all.
Which is not true of Edgar.
But will his morals save him
Or send him to his doom?
No spoilers you’ll find here –
The Bard supplies them all.

[Note: This review is not intended as a strict parody of Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy. If you’ve read Hamlet and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and can do better, why not leave your parody in the comments section on this post? For more on the novel, visit]

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. I love your poem! I was psyched to see you tackle this book because I just got it from the library as well, but now I’m a bit nervous to start it. Ophelia’s the dog?! Hmm…

    Comment by sarahsk — August 28, 2008 @ 9:45 pm | Reply

  2. AS IF…one would try to top your superb offering!


    Comment by ggelliott — August 29, 2008 @ 12:33 pm | Reply

  3. Thank you both! I was afraid people would pounce on me for using iambic trimeter instead of iambic pentameter as Shakespeare did.

    I’m in debt to Stephen King for pointing out in the promotional materials for the book that Ophelia is a dog. His comment made immediate sense to me as did other canine parallels that he didn’t mention and that I hope to note within the next day or so.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — August 29, 2008 @ 2:18 pm | Reply

  4. Oh, Janice, can you believe it – this woeful book has made it onto the IMPAC longlist!
    Lisa (ANZ LitLovers)

    Comment by Lisa Hill — November 3, 2009 @ 5:25 am | Reply

    • Lisa — Oh, no! You may be (slightly) cheered to hear that in the U.S., all of the major prizes resisted shortlisting it. Thank you so much for letting me know, and I’d love to hear further developments on this one. Jan

      Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — November 3, 2009 @ 11:41 am | Reply

      • *chuckle* Unless it makes it onto the shortlist (they wouldn’t, would they?) I can promise you’ll never hear another word about it from me…

        Comment by Lisa Hill — November 4, 2009 @ 3:12 am

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