It is my pleasure to welcome Robin Maxwell, author of the upcoming book O, Juliet (due to be released on February 2, 2010) to my blog today. I enjoyed the book more than I can say and I can’t thank Robin enough for allowing me to be one of the first to enjoy the book. You can read my review at the end of this post.
In the days after I had made the decision to retell the Romeo and Juliet story – for the first time in literary history as a novel – two thoughts began warring in my head: “You’re a genius – lucky as hell that no one’s thought of it before” and “You’re out of your friggin’ mind!”
Yes, I knew I would feel comfortable in late fifteenth century Italy. My last historical novel, Signora da Vinci, had been set there. For that book I had outdone myself in researching the period (to the point I thought my head would explode). I loved the Italians, and the thought of setting my Romeo and Juliet amidst them really got my creative juices bubbling.
But take on the Bard and one of the most beloved literary works of all time? What about all those Shakespeare nuts out there who would rip me to shreds for daring to tread on these sacred shores? Granted, I’d just learned that the Shakespeare’s had not been the first telling in history. There had been three Italian short stories written in the fifteenth century about these star-crossed lovers, and in the sixteenth one long English poem. Of course Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” had been adapted into Broadway musicals, ballets, operas, and even a graphic novel but these, in their own way, faithfully adhered to the great man’s work. Then there were the countless movie versions. These were even more devoted presentations, simply filmed versions of his play.
What I had in mind was rewriting the story in my own words, in my own way. I knew I needed to lengthen the period over which it was told from a few days to a few months, and I wanted to change the setting from Verona to Florence (where the “historical” Romeo and Juliet had played out their drama. I’d be fleshing out the lives, character arcs and motivations of Romeo and Juliet, losing some characters (Juliet’s nurse!), and adding others (a truly evil suitor and a best girlfriend). I’d be changing the helpful cleric from Friar Lawrence to Friar Bartolomo, and giving him a public face – the man who taught a weekly symposia on Dante Alighieri at Florence Cathedral (this really happened!).
I decided that both Romeo and Juliet would, like so many Italians of that time, be Dante freaks, and that part of their initial attraction – aside from the proverbial but perfect “love-at-first-sight/sexual chemistry” – would be their shared passion for that legendary poet. Then I really stepped in it. I cast the pair as amateur poets themselves. “Now you’ve done it,” I thought, “Now you have to write love poems in both their voices!”
Well, clearly the voice in my own head arguing for that great leap into the deepest of literary waters won out. I wrote O, Juliet, and I wrote poetry in both the lovers’ voices. Now it’s up to my readers to decide whether I did the story justice.
Last but not least, I want to thank Martina for hosting me on her wonderful blog.
O, Juliet is quite possibly one of my favourite books of all time. It is, as the title suggests, the story of Romeo and Juliet. I can already hear the protests of ‘no one can take on Will Shakespeare!’ but let me just say that Robin Maxwell does, in fact, take him on and in doing so turns the beloved story into something equally as beautiful and maybe even more readable.
Some people are asking ‘why re-tell?’, the story is already perfect. For me, one answer that came directly to mind is for my daughters. In our day and age, the closest most girls are going to get to ‘The Bard’ is a couple of star crossed lovers, one of whom is a vampire. That will be their idea of Romeo and Juliet. Let’s face it, not many of our children will be reading Shakespeare, not many of us have read Shakespeare. But this book is written in such a way that it might just get this generation inspired.
You don’t have to be a fan of Shakespeare or even know the story of Juliet and her Romeo to like this book. If you enjoy books with historical elements, are fond of characters rich with emotions, spirit and intricate stories, or even if you just love love, you will adore Robin’s take on this well known tale. I started to think that perhaps these two lovers were real people and not just beings that were made up by a centuries old English poet. I wanted them to be real as much as I wanted them to be together forever in life – and cried happy tears at the thought of them being together in death.
I have been a fan of Robin’s work for quite some time now and have read several of her books. Each and every story she writes is a treat but this one is really something special. I didn’t want to put it down, dreamed about it and want to read it again already and I’m definitely not a person who re-reads books! O, Juliet is, quite simply, a gem.