Friday, May 28, 2010
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
If you don’t know what play the previous words are from I’m fairly certain you are illiterate or at least culturally obtuse. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, a title that sparks a twinkle in the eyes of Shakespeare lovers, a grimace from high school students, and a sigh from young romantics. The one play that just about everyone has to read in school and had been made into more movies than ever necessary. And I hate it.
Yes, I’ve read it. Yes, I’ve seen the movies (all of them, even Romeo Must Die, but purely out of boredom). I’ve even performed scenes from it. Still loathe it. I’m sorry, I always though the two main characters were idiotic children and their co-conspirators inept messengers and friends who ultimately lead the dynamically woeful duo to their early and overdramatic demise. I’m not sorry. I love most Shakespeare. I can quote lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Taming of the Shrew, Henry IV, King Lear, and my personal favorite Titus Andronicus (of which I have full passages memorized), but every time I flip through my copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare and see this epitome of star-crossed love, I cringe and then roll my eyes. Hey, I have the same reaction when I come across James Cameron’s Titanic on cable. Don’t judge me, most of you do the same thing.
So, Juliet by Anne Fortier; it clearly has ties to one of my least favorite plays, yet I read it, loved it, and passed it on. Who What Where When Why How could I enjoy such a book?
Juliet is the story of Julie Jacobs, a young woman who is drawn into the mysterious world of Siena, Italy and into the very real world of Shakespeare’s warring families. Yes, the actual tale of Romeo and Juliet, or as this novel poses it Romeo and Giulietta, who lived and died in medieval Siena (not Verona) and were the unfortunate pawns of power-hungry families. Their story, however did not end with their demise, but with a curse, one that was fated too affect their ancestors for ages to come. As Julie is drawn to the story of Giulietta (an ancestor) and to her own dangerous and perhaps treacherous Romeo, her life begins to mirror the tragedy and mystery of her namesake.
This was a fast-paced, intriguing story, which brought to mind other fabulous tales that intertwined two time periods and stories to make for one excellent novel, namely Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, Katherine Neville’s The Eight, and Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth. I liked the complexity of the characters and the wonderful historical research that Fortier put into her story. The plot was clever, the characters usually managing to rise above the idiocy*of Shakespeare’s lovebirds. This was a good read. I finished it in a day and almost wanted to reread Romeo and Juliet. I’m sure many will after finishing this delightful and engaging new book. I was happy to pass a copy on to friends (I had two, my copy will stay on my bookshelf as it is definitely one I will reread) and am looking forward to its release, when other readers will be introduced to this wonderful new novel.
By Anne Fortier
Release Date: August 24, 2010
* Please note, I’m not saying Shakespeare’s writing produced idiots, I’m saying his writing was so good that I truly felt like I was reading about two spoiled teenagers and I just don’t care for the plot.