Friday, June 8, 2012

Historical Fiction/Mystery-Type Novel: Juliet by Anne Fortier

Publisher: Ballantine
Date: August 2010
Format: paperback
Source: publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 450
Reading time: three days

From GoodReads: When Julie Jacobs inherits a key to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy, she is told that it will lead her to an old family treasure. Soon she is launched on a winding and perilous journey into the history of her ancestor Giulietta, whose legendary love for a young man named Romeo rocked the foundations of medieval Siena. As Julie crosses paths with the descendants of the families immortalized in Shakespeare’s unforgettable blood feud, she begins to realize that the notorious curse—“A plague on both your houses!”—is still at work, and that she is the next target. It seems that the only one who can save Julie from her fate is Romeo—but where is he?

My review: As I was reading Juliet, I came to the realization that, really, it just wasn't my cup of tea for a variety of reasons. Therefore, though I thought it was well-written, I have several issues with the novel, as I shall now elucidate below.

What was the genre?! I'm okay with some blending of genres, but this combination got on my nerves. What began as a contemporary retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story (and yes, I would recommend being familiar with Shakespeare's version beforehand, because it gets referenced a lot without much explanation of characters, etc.) ended up reading more like your standard chick lit/romance fare. I started off liking the main character, but I increasingly found her weak and not quite thinking smart in her relationship with the lead male character. For someone at first very reserved and shy, she came out of her shell too fast and not all that intelligently, in my opinion. Then, later on, there was a thriller-esque feel as mysteries and twists popped up, complete with the stereotypical Italian 'mob' characters and plots. Oh, and in true thriller fashion, of course any new discoveries of historical import are subsequently destroyed or otherwise lost by the conclusion of the book.

The historical aspect of the novel, for most of the book alternating chapters with the contemporary setting, was most interesting to me. Fortier reworks Shakespeare's sources and 14th-century Sienese history into a fascinating twist on the classic story, complete with details of artists, saints, and the plague. But, for all the great historical bits, sometimes it seemed like the author exaggerated the most stereotypical details of lifeways and, especially, gender relations. In most cases these exaggerations came off as almost comical, though it appeared that they were intended to be entirely serious.

Overall, I thought the plotlines came together very well and with little confusion. The story seemed really long, but it flowed well and maintained interest. If a blend of chick lit, mystery, and literary references is right up your alley, then I highly recommend this book. If not, well, it is at least a decent read.

One last detail that bugged me: Julie, presumably a graduate from a literary or theater studies program and a teacher at Shakespeare camps, was surprised to learn that the Bard based Romeo and Juliet on older sources. Um, I've only just finished high school and am not an avid Shakespeare fan, and I even knew that...

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