From the BLURB:
Twenty-five-year-old Julie Jacobs is heartbroken over the death of her beloved aunt Rose. But the shock goes even deeper when she learns that the woman who has been like a mother to her has left her entire estate to Julie's twin sister. The only thing Julie receives is a key - one carried by her mother on the day she herself died - to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy.
This key sends Julie on a journey that will change her life forever - a journey into the troubled past of her ancestor Giulietta Tolomei. In 1340, still reeling from the slaughter of her parents, Giulietta was smuggled into Siena, where she met a young man named Romeo. Their ill-fated love turned medieval Siena upside-down and went on to inspire generations of poets and artists, the story reaching its pinnacle in Shakespeare's famous tragedy.
But six centuries have a way of catching up to the present, and Julie gradually begins to discover that here, in this ancient city, the past and present are hard to tell apart. The deeper she delves into the history of Romeo and Giulietta, and the closer she gets to the treasure they allegedly left behind, the greater the danger surrounding her - superstitions, ancient hostilities, and personal vendettas. As Julie crosses paths with the descendants of the families involved in the unforgettable blood feud, she begins to fear that the notorious curse - 'A plague on both your houses!' - is still at work, and that she is destined to be its next target. Only someone like Romeo, it seems, could save her from this dreaded fate, but his story ended long ago. Or did it?
Anne Fortier’s debut novel came to me in the mail from the publisher. But it was a bitter sweet review from Diana Gabaldon that piqued my interest in this Shakespearian retelling...
There are two stories in one running through ‘Juliet’. The present-day story of Julie Jacobs and the 1340 story of Guilletta Tolomei, both set in Siena, Italy. Add into the mix a hidden treasure and family curse and it becomes clear that Anna Fortier is riffing off of the Bard’s story, not emulating it.
Present-day Julie Jacobs retells the story of Guilletta and her Romeo in first-person accounts as she reads family documents and uncovers centuries old mysteries. Julie’s first-person narration also navigates her own modern romance, but I’m reluctant to mention specifics. Remember that in the original ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Romeo was first smitten with Rosaline, and Juliet was promised to Paris...
The book is a whopping 496-page fare. And Fortier flips between the present-day and 1340 Sienna – the storyline is languid and unfurling, and reader’s will need to be somewhat patient. It is a worthwhile wait and in the meantime Fortier’s sedate pace takes readers on a trek through Italy; the beautiful, hot countryside and the bustling cities.
Shakespeare, even in today’s world of 140-character Twitter posts and ‘lol’ sms speak, is still heralded as a poet and artisan. So revered and sacred is the Bard that often his work is put on a pedestal. Rarely is it imitated for fear of doing him injustice.
I've got to hand it to Anne Fortier for dusting off the Shakespeare plays and sonnets, breathing modern romance into the age-old saga, and making the star-crossed lovers her very own. The writing does start out with a certain amount of pretence and pompousness...
“You always preferred the company of the moon.”But at some point Fortier gets wrapped up in the plot and storyline, and shakes off the shackles of old-world rhetoric and just lets the story flow... and then it’s amazing. When Fortier isn’t too conscious of syntax-imitation, her writing beautifully melds modern and erstwhile, and she imbues her scenes and sentences with old-world romance.
“Because I was living in eternal night! Surely, the moon must be the sovereign of a wretch who has never beheld the sun. But morning has broken, Father, draped in the golds and the reds of marriage, and it is the dawn of my soul!”
“But the sun retires,” reasoned Commandante Marescotti, “every night.”
“And I shall retire too!” Romeo clenched a fistful of arrows against his heart. “And leave the dark to owls and nightingales. I shall embrace the bright hours with industry, and prey no more on wholesome sleep.”
Only when I began unbuttoning his shirt did he speak again. “Do you,” he asked, briefly stopping my hands, “believe in forever?”A good portion of the story revolves around Julie’s feelings of inadequacy and lacking self-confidence. Her fraternal twin Janice is beautiful, confident, selfish and narcissistic. To a certain extent I empathized with Julie’s plight of being ‘the other sister’, second-string never quite good enough and always second place. But when Janice steps on the scene in the latter half of the book, it became glaringly obvious why there was so much fuss about her. Yes, she’s awful... but she’s also awfully fun to read. I’m not sure if Fortier intended Janice’s appeal to be ironic, when readers discover her hype is real, or if she wanted us to reject her fabulousness in light of Julie’s plight...? Hmmm.
I met his eyes, surprised at his sincerity. Holding up the eagle ring between us, I simply said, “Forever started a long time ago.”
You don’t have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to appreciate ‘Juliet’. Even those with basic high school knowledge of his works, or Baz Luhrmann adaptations, will appreciate and follow the story. And really, Fortier is writing the most famous of Shakespeare’s plays – who doesn’t know about the story of more woe, than that of Juliet and her Romeo?
And as to whether or not Fortier’s ‘Juliet’ has the happily ever after denied the original star-crossed lovers?... well, you’ll just have to read it and find out.