NAL, $15.00, ISBN 978-0-451-22915-1
Historical Fiction, 2010
O, Juliet is, of course, based on that story. But not, as author Robin Maxwell explains in the afterword, exactly the story that you may have read from that dead guy William Shakespeare, as she was also inspired by several versions of the story that came before the play. Some creative liberties had been taken, and there were several actual historical figures making an appearance here. Juliet’s confidante, for example, is Lucrezia de’Medici, instead of a maid.
I don’t think I need to give the synopsis of the story, do I? It’s still a recognizable one despite the creative liberties taken, although Juliet is now 18 instead of 14 to make her a less discomfiting heroine for modern times. Juliet Capelletti’s BFF Lucrezia is about to finally marry her betrothed, and it looks to be a happy marriage as both parties are fond of one another. This only accentuates Juliet’s increasing unhappiness: she’s about to be married off to Jacopo Strozzi, and she can’t stand that man. He has bad breath, creepy eyes, and worst of all, a mother who believes that there is no woman good enough for her son. She knows that she has to obey her parents, however, as the marriage is good for her father’s business and, also, as a woman, she has limited options – none of them good – if she disobeys her parents.
And then she bumps into Romeo Monticecco in a masked ball. They both discover that they share a love for writing and reading, breathing poetry. It’s love at first sight, but their families are in a violent feud with each other, so can young love prevail?
Before you ask, yes, the ending remains the same, although it’s more of a heartwarming tearjerker than a depressing falling of the curtains. While the basic story should be familiar to most people, the author introduces some elements here that manage to make this story still feel fresh and intriguing. The events leading up to the denouement is given a more down to earth spin, although “more” in this case means that the plot is more Bollywood than the “stupid melodramatic emo twits doing stupid things in the name of love” type of melodrama.
Here’s the thing: I am a cynic who normally scoffs at a story with such a superficial romance at its core, but by the last page, I am blubbering like an emotional wreck.
Ms Maxwell’s prose has flowery yet graceful cadence in every word, and the narrative effortlessly reels me in even if I still remain skeptical about the “true love” thing between Romeo and Juliet. These two connect on a pretty superficial level that first time, and their subsequent interactions rarely go deeper than poetry running wild all over the place. Still, I like this Juliet, who is more proactive than many previous versions of this character, and if her feelings for Romeo seem like an extension of her desire to escape her life, I can relate to that because the author develops her character to a pretty good extent. Romeo also comes off as an earnest and idealistic guy who means well but, ultimately, there are some things that are beyond his control. Poor Romeo and Juliet, they go through a lot of hell here, but this story tells me that, in the end, love is worth it. I find myself buying all that.
O, Juliet is, at the end of the day, an enjoyable read that surprises me with how easy it manages to play with my emotions. It may not offer new insight or twists into a popular story line, but it can pack an emotional punch to remember.