JULIET by Anne Fortier

Book Quote:

“How far did I fall? I feel like saying that I fell through time itself, through lives, deaths, and centuries past, but in terms of actual measurement the drop was no more than twenty feet. At least, that is what they say. They also say that, fortunately for me, it was neither rocks nor demons that caught me as I came tumbling into the underworld. It was the ancient river that wakes you from dreams, and which few people have ever been allowed to find.

Her name is Diana.”

Book Review:

Review by Vesna McMaster  (JUL 29, 2011)

Hands up anyone who doesn’t know the story of Romeo and Juliet. No-one? Thought not. Chances are you cut your literary teeth on it, and it probably holds some special associations for you. That’s why it’s such a good subject for a modern/historical parallel romance story with sinister overtones.

Julie Jacobs is the quasi-eponymous heroin of the novel. Orphaned as a very young child, she has been brought up by her Great-Aunt Rose along with her twin sister Janice… who is as like to Julie as a marble is to a strawberry. Great-Aunt Rose has brought the sisters up in the States, but when they are in their mid-twenties she ups and dies, leaving Janice the estate and Julie (rather inconveniently) merely a letter and the address of a banker in Sienna. A heartbroken and down-at-heel Julie makes the best of a bad deal and packs her unfashionable bags for Sienna.

Matters get complicated almost immediately with a chance befriending by the glamorous Eva Maria Salimbeni – and that’s before Julie ever even reaches Sienna. The narrative rapidly develops distinct fairy-tale colours, which grow richer by the page. Julie soon discovers that few things really happen by chance in this neck of the woods. What with Julie’s historical trouble with the Italian police (don’t ask) and Eva Maria’s handsome nephew Alessandro being Captain Santini of the Sienna police, a certain amount of intrigue becomes inevitable from the word go.

The mystery trail of the letter leads from the bank, to a box, to clues, to the Pallio, to museums and clan rivalries, to subterranean passages and clean through to the 14th century. Sienna, it seems, not Verona, is the original location for the historical characters that inspired Shakespeare’s tragedy: a story already two hundred years old and re-told countless times by the time he got to it. To gain the treasure that the historical Romeo and Juliet supposedly left behind, Julie must immerse herself into her own past, which extends far beyond what one would think reasonable in chronological terms.

Fortier displays brilliant craftsmanship in weaving the multi-faceted timelines of her story into a cohesive narrative. She intersperses new mystery, romance and violence at a pace which will leave no reader able to resist the next page. But above all, she really loves her Shakespeare. This work has obviously arisen from a love of the original text. The imagery of warring opposites, fire and ice, danger and beauty that characterize Shakespeare’s work have given birth here to whole neighbourhoods, new characters and impassioned landscapes. This is no half-baked, ill-fadged limping mess that so many supposedly more straightforward “historical” novels fall into. It’s an inspired work of art with a backbone not only of research but of understanding, one could almost say sympathetic resonance. It’s so clever one wishes it were true.

However, not everyone will like it. Readers often divide into camps between the two sisters Julie and Janice: some finding the latter two-dimensional, many considering the former mawkish and generally kickable. The main plot is pretty easy to guess from the start, which is perhaps not ideal for a mystery. I didn’t find this a problem at all, as there were so many details in between A and B that just because one knows the outcome it doesn’t make the journey any less pleasurable.

Possibly its main detraction for many might be that it’s essentially chick lit. Let me qualify this swiftly: I don’t read chick lit and I found Juliet thrilling. It’s the sort of thing you put down with a glow and wonder whom to tell about it first; and then possibly consider that boys might not be so keen on it. I hate to say it, but with 80% of serious readers being female, I still think it’s got a pretty good market. Chick lit it may be, but very good chick lit. As I read it, I was taking notes on structure and tactics, thinking, “if only I could write more like this.” I’m not sure what higher form of admiration one could offer.

If you like your stories well-written, exciting, properly researched, and you have a tendency towards things pre-1400s with a dash of the paranormal and several cask-fulls of romance, don’t delay in reading this especially now that it is available in paperback.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 159 readers
PUBLISHER: Ballantine Books (July 26, 2011)
REVIEWER: Vesna McMaster
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More Romeo & Juliet tales: 

Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James

Brazil by John Updike

And another Julia on a quest through the past:

The Giuliana Legacy by Alexis Masters


July 29, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Debut Novel, Facing History, italy, Reading Guide

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