Shakespeare Reboot: Juliet’s Nurse

There have been a number of classic updates recently: Emma: A Modern Retelling, Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility, and  The Innocents by Francesca Segal which is a version of The Age of Innocence etc. I’m usually pretty attached to the originals and don’t often take the plunge with these updates. I generally feel like the originals were pretty perfect and are classics for a reason (ie they stand the test of time). They don’t really need updating.

However, I’m intrigued by those books that take an aspect or character of a classic tale and build a new story around that. Things like First Impressions, Death Comes to Pemberly and most recently, Juliet’s Nurse.

 Juliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen is a kind of prequel to the events in Romeo and Juliet but it also tells the same story, with a different spin. It’s been about 15 years since I read Romeo and Juliet. I’ve only read it the one time, never having been a fan of dramatic teenaged love even as a teenager myself. I wondered if there would be aspects of the story that I would miss, not being a diehard when it came to Romeo and Juliet. I assumed that Leveen was a Shakespearean scholar, intimately familiar with all the minutiae of the story, that maybe you’d need a high level understanding of Shakespeare to get it.

If you harbour similar concerns, don’t. In the Afterword, Leveen admits that she hadn’t read the play since it was assigned in highschool either. But the idea of a story about Juliet’s nurse, the character after Romeo and Juliet who has the most lines, came to her out of the blue and she re-read the play in one sitting and that’s how she was sucked back in.

juliet's nurse

In the novel, Angelica (the nurse) comes to work for Juliet’s family the day after her daughter dies at birth, the same day that Juliet was born. Her husband, eager to help his wife through her grief (their daughter was the 7th child to die after the plague took their six healthy sons), contracts her out to the Cappelleti (Capulets) as a wet nurse to their new baby. Angelica is soon completely enthrall to this tiny girl and treats her as her own.

As the years pass, she comes to think of Juliet as her own daughter. When she is left a widow, caring for Juliet is the only thing that convinces her not to kill herself. Everything Angelica does is motivated out of a love for Juliet. When she is young, Juliet listens to every word her nurse has to say, lets her nurse soothe her when no one else will do, refers to her mother as Madam as her nurse does. But when she is 14 and falls in love, she changes as all teenaged girls do and suddenly she isn’t the same sweet light that she always was.

I was interested to read what Leveen imagined happened to lead Juliet to her tragic conclusion. I liked her characterization of Tybalt and Mercutio, her subtle changes to this classic story, the bones of which even casual Shakespeare scholars are familiar with. I also enjoyed the fact that as Juliet gets older, as she falls in love, she becomes a petulant, lippy young lady which is probably closer to what it would have looked like in real life. And you get a better understanding of the generations worth of hate that existed between the Montagues (Montecche in this version) and the Capulets.

It can be hard to make a historical novel credible when you are using the language of another time. It can come across as stilted and a little false. In some sections, Juliet’s Nurse does suffer from this but mostly I felt that Leveen handled that particular challenge really well. I found myself lost in 14th century Verona and I enjoyed the trip.

Having read Juliet’s Nurse kind of makes me want to give Romeo and Juliet another shot. Think I can polish it off in one sitting like Leveen?

PS Juliet’s Nurse is totally in paperback now!


Paperback Princess Loves New Paperbacks!

I really do. I’m not sure when I started holding out in favour of paperbacks (probably around the time when I realized that being an adult is expensive!) but that’s my general MO these days.

So it delights me to be able to bring you all a list of fabulous books that have recently been turned into ready-to-love paperbacks. You know, so that you can start filling up your beach bags and lake totes with great books. So that when you are planning a picnic, you will have a list of books that you can stash in your basket.

I’ve been tricked before by news that the paperback version of Gone Girl was going to be released shortly. But now I’ve seen it with my own two eyes so it’s official. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is finally in paperback. Just in time for those of you that still haven’t read it to get to it before the movie’s release this fall. Seriously though, read this book.

The follow up to the JK Rowling-as-Robert-Galbraith penned The Cuckoo’s Calling is coming out this June. For those of you that can’t read The Silkworm until you’ve been introduced to Cormoran Strike properly, get thee to a bookstore for a copy of the freshly printed paperback!

The other day I waxed poetic about the perfection of the Paris: The Novel paperback and mentioned that Edward Rutherfurd’s previous city novels didn’t share this flawlessness. But then I went to the bookstore and lo and behold! Perfect paperbacks of London, New York and Russka. So if you’re in the market for that most perfect paperback but didn’t think Paris was your style? Now you have no excuse.

Remember how I loved The Circle by Dave Eggers? I thought it was a most excellent imagining of what could happen to the world if we’re not careful with the direction that social media is taking. It was a big ol’ beast of a book though so I can’t blame you if you wanted to wait for a more portable edition. Your time has come.

Finally, Harper Collins has done us the massive favour of publishing Jonas Jonasson’s brand new book, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden in paperback right off the bat. I loved his debut novel The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (so did millions of others around the world) and I’m so very excited to crack this baby. Even though technically I’m on a book buying ban, my other half wasn’t there to see me so it totally doesn’t count.

There you go! A list of paperbacks to inspire some book cravings; you know you want to.


Waiting It Out: Paperbacks

I have been waiting all year for the 5th book in the Buckshaw Chronicles to come out in paperback. I started buying the books in paperback and they are so good looking sitting side by side in the same format, that I’m doomed to have to wait it out each time a new volume is released. The fifth book, Speaking from Among the Bones did the paperback thing on Tuesday.

I went on Tuesday to collect a copy for myself. But I couldn’t find it anywhere and since I was on a time crunch, I figured I’d just come back the next day (one of the perks/curses of working near a bookstore – I can always come back the next day). Wednesday found me back in the bookstore searching and searching and searching, circling around the store with zero luck until I happened upon a store employee who took pity on me and helped me out. They did have paperbacks of the book but they were still in the box in the back! 

She went back and minutes later came out with her arms full of brand new, never-been-touched, fresh-out-the-box copies of Speaking from Among the Bones paperbacks. And then I got to choose one.


Book nerd glory.

Since the season of giving is upon us and some of us really do wait for paperback versions of our favourite books to come out, I thought I would run down a couple of my personal paperback favourites that have just been released.

The Dinner by Herman Koch. I actually already own this in the hardcover format but I see that it has just come out in paperback and that’s excellent news for my book club as this is our next selection. Two brothers and their wives go out for dinner one summer night in Amsterdam to discuss their teenaged sons’ recent activities. Tension runs just below the surface of the meal at a fancy restaurant until the whole thing blows up. I can’t wait to read this again and then get to talk about it. It is twisted and uncomfortable and oh so current.

One of the best books I read this year (and possibly that I’ve ever read), Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. This book is massive and if paperback had been available earlier this year, I might have gone for it. Would have saved myself some neck pain. This book is incredible. Whether you have children or not, this book forces you to take a closer look at what it means to be human. Often it is a tough book to read, I personally had a really hard time with the chapter about children conceived in rape, but I think it’s an incredibly important one.

J.K. Rowling’s fans were heavily divided on The Casual Vacancy but if you were waiting for the paperback version before you got in on the debate, wait no more. I really liked this book – it was different from Harry Potter but that was the whole point. Rowling proved that she is a gifted storyteller no matter the genre and the end? The end was one of the most spectacular endings I’ve ever experienced.

Finally, if you’re on the Buckshaw Chronicles wagon and adore Flavia de Luce (and if you’ve read any of the books, you do), the 6th book (The Dead in their Vaulted Arches) is released (in hardcover, boo) in January. So next fall I will be all over that paperback!