Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Juliet's Nurse Would Make Shakespeare Proud
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: September 23, 2014
Source: I received an e-galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
Shakespeare. The name thrills some, makes others cower. English teachers get excited, students groan. Shakespeare has many claims to fame, from the English words he created that we still speak today, to a huge portfolio of works that have survived almost 400 years after his death. Shakespeare is also shrouded in mystery. While there is proof that the man existed, certain camps of thought question his authorship. Some believe it was a group of men working together. The movie Anonymous puts forth the idea that one nobleman, whose high societal rank kept him from full involvement with the theater, wrote everything and used lower standing Shakespeare as his cover for publication. Whatever your belief - or even the truth - there's no doubt that these works have stood the test of time, the proof not only in the fact that we still read them, but that they are copied and added onto repeatedly.
The Shakespeare play that comes to mind first is Romeo and Juliet, mostly because I taught this play for years and will be back to it this year. It is also the play whose themes and plot I see repeated most often in movies and books. In recent years I've noticed authors writing books that are "take-offs" of bigger works, such as Rhett Butler's People, an authorized sequel to Gone With the Wind, and The Wind Done Gone, which is an alternative version of the same, told by Mammy's daughter. Sometimes these add-ons fall flat, but they're worth a try, because the successful ones make the original that much richer.
All of that to say, this is why I requested Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen. It is the story of Romeo and Juliet told from the perspective of Juliet's nurse, but more, as the story starts with Juliet's birth, leading up to the events we all know will end the story. In Shakespeare's play, the nurse is an eccentric "old" woman who loves Juliet very much, having mothered her more than anyone else. Her conversation isn't always appropriate and she's a little more supportive of crazy teenage antics than most adults would be. I couldn't wait to read it and see the nurse come to life beyond what her Shakespeare role hinted about her.
And Leveen did not disappoint. As Leveen's story progressed, I started looking for events that would align with what I knew of the Nurse's life from Shakespeare's play. Tidbits only, brought fully to life here in Leveen's work, and turning what we thought we knew about Juliet and her Nurse on its head. I was just as delighted as pieces of Shakespeare's beautiful dialogue began to appear in all the right places, but heard from a different perspective this time. I imagine much of my enjoyment of Juliet's Nurse comes from my intricate knowledge of Shakespeare's original play, so maybe it wouldn't be as exciting for others. Yet, just about everyone is familiar with Romeo and Juliet and could appreciate the fuller background Leveen weaves. For Shakespeare or Romeo and Juliet fans, Juliet's Nurse is a must.
Tell me readers, are you a Shakespeare fan? Have you read any "take-offs" to a bigger work?