Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Review: O, Juliet, by Robin Maxwell
Original publication date: 2010
My edition: 2010 (NAL Trade)
Why I decided to read: I enjoyed Maxwell's novel on Elizabeth I a few years ago; the idea of a novel on Romeo and Juliet intrigued me.
How I acquired my copy: ARC through Amazon Vine
O, Juliet is the story of Juliet Capelletti, daughter of a merchant in Florence, who, betrothed to her father’s partner Jacopo Strozzi, falls in love with Romeo Monticecco, whose family own a rival company. The story is told primarily from the point of view of Juliet, and attempts to follow Shakespeare’s play.
I was so prepared to love this novel, but I simply didn’t. O Juliet is faithful neither to Shakespeare’s play, nor is it faithful to the historical story of Romeo and Juliet (and there really were a Romeo and Juliet, who lived in Verona in the early 14th century). Maxwell, for some inexplicable reason, chooses to set her story in 15th century Verona, which really had me scratching my head—especially when Cosimo de Medici entered the picture, since he doesn’t seem to add anything to the story.
The characters in this novel are not really believable and I found it hard to be empathetic towards them. Juliet comes across as an empty-headed girl, and the author’s attempts to give her book smarts really didn’t work for me. I also didn’t love Romeo’s character; he seems a bit wishy-washy. And their relationship seemed to be based more on hormones, not the great, abiding love of Shakespeare’s story. There’s also the rather buffoonish Strozzi (who’s never given much of a personality beyond his physical characteristics). Really, did we need to be told over and over how bad his breath is?
Bad characters can sometimes be excused, if the plot is any good; but here, it’s just awful. The author could have created something really awesome if she’d chosen to focus on the REAL Romeo and Juliet story (not necessarily Shakespeare’s version). If memory serves me right, in the original story, the Montagues and Capulets were on different sides of the Guelph/ Ghibelline political struggle in Italy in the late Middle Ages. THAT would have been a great story, given the story much more of a sense of conflict. In this novel, however, the main source of tension between the Monticeccos and Capellettis is caused by jealousy and petty rivalry in business. Not all that interesting, in my opinion, and not worthy of the title of "ancient grudge" that Shakespeare mentions in his play (the grudge is centuries old; so old in fact, that nobody remembers when it started. So the fight in this novel between two merchants, both presumably self-made men in early modern Florence, don't exactly have a deep-seated animosity towards one another).
As a side note, the writing is atrocious, and the author uses more clichés than I could count. It was a pretty quick, easy read, and not one I’d particularly recommend. As I’ve said before, the novel draws heavily from Shakespeare’s play, and doesn’t add anything new or insightful to either Romeo or Juliet’s characters.