Page 69 Test

I recently ran across the idea of The Page 69 Test -- a sort of critical bibliomancy by which you are supposed to determine the quality or character of a book by reading page 69 (in some variations, it's page 99). Since I just received the finished copies of The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet in the mail, I quickly turned to those two pages, imagining readers in bookstores doing the same. Luckily, both of those pages, while not giving away any major plot spoilers or climactic moments, are pretty good windows into the novel as a whole, and hint at intrigues to come. I've reprinted them here:

Page 69

"Home" proved to be a wing of the Danish embassy, where Hamlet led me upstairs from the dark official chambers and reception halls to a luxurious but sparsely decorated sitting room. The walls were wainscoted with elaboately carved oaken panels, but hung with neither portraits nor tapestries.

"We needn't wake the servants," he whispered, opening a cupboard to remove a pot of brandywine and a pair of silver goblets. "They'll just breed gossip. If you stoke the fires, I shall pour."

I nodded, glad for this occupation. The hearth coals were still smoldering, buried in the ash, and quickly I kindled them back to life. From this flame, he lit candles and set them in their stands. We pulled a pair of armchairs near the fire, and Hamlet served up the wine.

"Now that we are alone--" He dragged his chair a bit nearer to mine, his eyes glimmering mischievously. "We must discuss which role I am to have in your play."

I gaped in confusion. "My lord, I thought you said your father..."

"Aha!" He held his index finger up, stopping my tongue with a gesture. "I said my father would not hear of it. And so he shall not, if we are careful. I must adopt a new name--play the role, in fact, of a player playing a role." He made it sound like some delightful game, not a conspiracy to deceive the king. Treason, of course, to think of it that way.

Page 99 is from one of the handful of chapters set in Elsinore. In this scene, Queen Gertrude is arguing with Claudius, her lover--to whom, we learn, she was handfasted at 16 before she broke off the engagement to marry his brother, Horwendil Hamlet. In my version of the play, the two royal brothers are identical twins, calling into question the reliability of Prince Hamlet's "Hyperion to a Satyr" comparison.

Page 99

Her father had laughed at her objection to the switch. "Why, I cannot see a hair's difference between them, except that one is to be king!"

She had convinced herself it was the truth--if she had come to love a face, she could learn to love it, she thought, on whichever gentlemen it might appear. Two men could not be closer than sharing the same womb. So she had returned Claudius's letters and turned all her charms instead upon his brother.

"And within two months--two little months!--I lost my wife, my father, and my crown."

"I could have refused to marry him and angered my father and been shut up behind the convent walls, and now I would be a nun instead of queen. I could have taken poison--I had the vial in my hand--and I would be dead. But instead, I am queen. These were my choices. This way, I thought, I could at least be near you. We have had a life together, even in pieces. And I have had the worser time of it, I think, than you--for I have had to be his wife."

Her voice is shaking. What is it with these men, these Hamlets? Her husband, her lover, her son--each of them looks at the world through the same eyes, orates over the same neurotic, self-absorbed obsessions, seals his letters with the same signet-ring. Each one more proud, ruthless, and stubborn than the last. And to each of them is she bound less by her own desires than by the inexorable, painful pull of destiny.

Her son had been a frail child. Born too soon, he had not been expected to live out his first day. The midwife took one look at the bluish creature she had whelped and sent word to hire a gravedigger. "A pity too," she sighed. "It would have been a boy."

Oh, and the fifth sentence on page 65?

" 'At this rate you shall have to have a deity lowered ex machina at the end, as the Romans did, to set the plot to rights.' "

Which I think is as good of a random sentence from the book as I could have hoped.