Review

It's What He Would've Wanted

by Sean Hughes



Hamlet is one of the most tragic figures in literature: His
father's ghost haunts him; his mother marries his uncle before the
grave is cold; his childhood friends betray him; the love of his
life kills herself; and he is poisoned by his best friend's sword.
Add to these unfortunate turns of events his tendency towards
self-doubt, and it is difficult to imagine a more tragic or
action-less hero.

Enter Shea Hickson, the first-person narrator of IT'S WHAT HE
WOULD'VE WANTED. Shea is having a bad time: The love of his life
left him for his younger, more successful, brother; a one-night
stand makes him a father; he's neck-deep in an organization that
terrorizes the media and celebrities; and, his father has just
committed suicide. Add to this Shea's lack of ambition, and the
shadowy figure of a modern-day Hamlet emerges.

Shea's twisted Hamlet-like tale begins with the unexpected death of
his father, a BBC weatherman. The suicide startles Shea into a
single-minded pursuit to finally, if belatedly, understand the man
who gave him life. The ghost, in Shea's case, haunts him in the
form of his father's diaries. Deciphering the diaries becomes
Shea's purpose in life; he, like Hamlet, is bent on avenging his
father's death.

Pursuit of the people and events memorialized in the diaries takes
Shea across the water to Australia. There he meets Robert Townsend,
a beneficiary of his father's will. It seems that, like father like
son, Robert is the result of a disastrous one-night stand.
Absurdly, the illegitimate brother bears a striking resemblance to
Shea and shares his birthday. As Shea remarks, "he was what I would
have looked like if I'd taken better care of myself." Ironically,
this half-Doppelgänger is to Shea what Fortinbras is to
Hamlet: a man of action and success.

Absurdity is heavy in IT'S WHAT HE WOULD'VE WANTED. Sean Hughes is
a well-known Irish comic in England, which should warn readers that
the humor is dark, subtle and ironic. Hughes even mocks his own
creation's paralyzing overanalyzing by introducing Gabrielle, a
prostitute ("Get thee to a nunnery," Hamlet whispers). She doesn't
wait for Shea to finish thinking --- by the time he has made up his
mind to act, she's beaten him to the punch. In a moment of comic
inspiration, Hughes has Gabrielle send Shea back to his bleak
London existence with two pocket statues of an owl. This gift from
a lady of the night infuses Shea with the desire to lay his shadows
to rest, and he returns to London ready to join the mundane world
of the working class.

As his quest to illuminate his father's past fizzles, Shea's life
continues its barrage of unfortunate incidents. His brother
disappears, his mother gains a fiancé, and his terrorist
organization won't let him quit. The unrelenting twists of events
connect in a rather abrupt denouement, which may be Hughes's way of
attracting a movie deal.

Unlike Hamlet, however, Shea Hickson would not translate well to
the cinematic world. The character's memoir-like narration doesn't
have the same dramatic effect as, say, a Shakespearean soliloquy.
Instead, Shea's self-deprecating and wandering thoughts invoke a
stereotypical aging Generation X-er, which should appeal nicely to
all us aging, stereotypical Generation X-ers. Hopefully turning 30,
again or for the first time, won't prompt life to cast us in an
Elizabethan play as told by an Irish comic. I don't think anyone
could survive what Hughes puts Shea Hickson through. Not even
Hamlet.

Reviewed by Amee Vyas on January 22, 2011

It's What He Would've Wanted
by Sean Hughes

  • Publication Date: March 20, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 0743201590
  • ISBN-13: 9780743201599