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Friday, March 12, 2010

O, Juliet by Robin Maxwell

O, Juliet by Robin Maxwell

Release Date: February 2, 2010
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 306

William Shakespeare's well-known play, Romeo and Juliet, gets a different spin in Robin Maxwell's O, Juliet. Romeo and Juliet's story takes place during the Italian Renaissance and Juliet Capelletti is a budding poet and lover of Dante's work. Romeo Monticecco is also a lover of poetry and the two meet during a party. Romeo sneaks into the party with hopes to smooth over the tension between his family and Juliet's. The two of course are immediate attracted to each other and long to be together.

However, even as the strained relations between the Capellettis and Monticeccos improve, there still one thing standing in this couple's way: Jacopo Strozzi. Strozzi is Juliet's father's business partner. He is a man who often whines and complains, which does nothing for his already ugly appearance. Unfortunately, Juliet is destined to marry him, as her father and Strozzi wish to

At least Juliet has her good friend Lucrezia, who recently married into the powerful Medici family. The two are educated ladies who share a love of literature. Juliet confides in Lucrezia and has high hopes that Romeo's persistence at easing tensions between the Capellettis and Monticeccos can eventually lead to a marriage to Romeo for love, not a marriage for convenience with Strozzi.

But fate was not destined to be kind to these star crossed lovers; they must keep their love and their activities secret, lest their anyone learns of their trysts. But before long, things go spiraling out of control, and the deceitful Strozzi will do anything to destroy what Romeo has worked for, and to make sure that Juliet and the business will be all his...

I'm still a little conflicted over this retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Although I found O, Juliet enjoyable at points, I was not a big fan of some of how some of the characters were portrayed; Strozzi and Romeo were too fitted for their parts: evil vs. good. Strozzi seemed rather overstated; his ugly appearance and foul disposition was stated over and over again while Romeo seemed just a little too perfect: he was polite and the constant peace-maker. I always saw Romeo as a much more impulsive man who could be rather moody and at times, lustful. However, that is just my interpretation and Maxwell's shows another possibility.

One point that bothered me was that Strozzi received most of the blame for the things that went wrong in this version of Romeo and Juliet. In Shakespeare's version the two youth's impulsiveness and impatience was what often led to the trouble. Although the two star-crossed lovers in Maxwell's version were rash and at times, I would say they were not near the level that Shakespeare's original showed, so the plot seemed driven by Strozzi's scheming as much as by their impulsiveness and tendency for hasty decisions. I am not saying that Shakespeare's version was driven soley by Romeo and Juliet's attitudes as there were other factors as well, but I felt that it had a much bigger role in Shakespeare's original, and had thought that to be one of the points Shakespeare was making about love and young lovers' lust.

All in all, each reader may find Robin Maxwell's O, Juliet more enjoyable or less so that I did, depending on his/her own interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, but you have to give credit to Maxwell for telling her own interpretation of the classic love story.

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