Book Review: The King of Infinite Space by Lyndsay Faye

The King of Infinite Space by Lyndsay Faye is a lush, magical, queer, and feminist take on Hamlet in modern-day New York City, where a neuro-atypical philosopher, along with his best friend Horatio and artist ex-fiancé Lia, are caught up in the otherworldly events surrounding the death of his father.

Fans of Shakespeare’s classic play Hamlet will love Lyndsay Faye’s innovative update of the Danish tragedy as a 21st-century murder mystery with bewitchingly supernatural elements.

Benjamin Dane is heir to the New World’s Stage, a theater company founded by his father, oil scion and impresario Jackson Dane. Though the building that originally housed the theater burned down in a fire several years ago, the Danes have built back better—or so Benjamin believed. After Jackson’s sudden death, Benjamin is surprised to receive several videotapes addressed to him by his father. In them, Jackson claims that corruption lies at the heart of their empire. More chillingly, he states unequivocally that if he suddenly dies, it will be because he’s been murdered by his half-brother, Claude Dane.

Benjamin, still reeling from his father’s death, has also been recently surprised and horrified by his mother Trudy’s hasty and unseemly remarriage to Claude. Now, he has to wonder whether mild-mannered Claude is far more devious than he appears. Would Claude kill Jackson in order to clear the way for his own marriage to Trudy? Benjamin is determined to find out, no matter what the cost.

Unfortunately, Benjamin isn’t really cut out for detective work, at least not on his own. A physics student turned philosophy lecturer, his outreach work with troubled kids has only served to sadden his already sensitive soul, and he relies on pills and suicidal ideation to help him through his days.

Death will end everything Benjamin’s ever loved, and he flirts with this like a drunk left alone at a bar. Why does death seem so particularly spellbinding to you? Horatio asked once, sharing whiskey straight from the bottle as the midnight traffic painted neon graffiti on their walls. Benjamin cackled and said, It doesn’t seem particular, it is particular, because we can only do it once.

Horatio wants to take his friend’s heart and wrap it in sunlight and goose down so that Benjamin is never battered again by all the shocks that humanity is so naturally subjected to.

Horatio Patel is Benjamin’s best friend, and when he receives a frantic text for help he is on the next plane back to New York City from London where he lives and teaches. Despite his readiness to come to his friend’s aid now, he and Benjamin hadn’t parted on the best of terms. Horatio has been in love with Benjamin since college, but after an ill-advised hookup, he decided they were better off as friends at a remove. Now that they’ve had time and distance, Horatio thinks it’s probably safe for him to come back to support his friend. Besides, Benjamin needs Horatio’s level head and affable manner to help him get to the truth, ugly and dangerous as the process may be.

Meanwhile, Benjamin’s artist ex-fiance, Lia, has been apprenticing with three women who run a flower shop whose bouquets provide uncanny nudges to their recipients. The arrival of a puckish event coordinator with a penchant for both needlework and chaos has Lia second-guessing her decision to stay away from Benjamin, even as she grieves a dark chapter of her past that she can reveal to her beloved only in the odd dreams they somehow share.

Ms. Faye describes all this in sumptuous detail, embroidering her narrative and the feats of artistry, in particular, with prose so evocative it’s almost like being there. This is especially evident in Lia’s constant dreams of the burned theatre.

Sometimes the damage is the way it really happened. Total annihilation on the lower floor, a dragon-razed mezzanine. Sometimes the destruction is rendered pretty and whimsical. The ruined velvet seats crowd against either wall, creating a proud aisle like an apocalyptic road. Or granite-sparkling ashes flit toward her eyelashes. Or the roof is gone, and Lia looks up to see stark, perfect constellations.

Haunted by their pasts and chasing down the truth in pursuit of a future they can live with, Lia, Benjamin, and Horatio are drawn together once more as the investigation into Jackson’s death reaches its disastrous climax. The narrative doesn’t strictly follow the Bard’s—at about the halfway point, I realized something significant about one of the members of our trio and applauded Ms. Faye’s official reveal a while later—but it does cleverly incorporate the themes and events of the original. It also folds in several very recognizable characters from other Shakespearean works. Fans will delight in the many asides and references strewn throughout the text, and murder mystery buffs will be pleasantly surprised by the many different aspects of crime that turn up in this book. I am no great admirer of Hamlet myself, but even I was dazzled by Ms. Faye’s masterful understanding of the original and by her ability to turn that understanding into something at once suspensefully fresh and relevant to our modern age.

Check out this Q&A with author Lyndsay Faye!

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