When I read a review of this book on ‘Goodreads’ I had to have it. I mean seriously, how does one forget a title like ‘Juliet.’ I read a few excerpts at the book store and I was hooked. I’ve loved the story of Romeo and Juliet for quite some time, um, not so much in high school when I was forced to understand iambic pentameter and all the nuances of this brilliant but tragic play. But oh my goodness, throw in the Italian city of Siena, a modern re-telling of the Shakespearean tragedy with beautiful quotes from the play to highlight each chapter, and numerous but thrilling twists and turns, it is amazingly well done. I was of the opinion that one should not dare to take on Shakespeare unless one is awfully certain of one’s ability to maintain an engaging story line. Anne Fortier does so, although the final pages wax and wane here and there and I would have liked the “almost( modern-day) tragedy” to have been a bit more challenging. Here’s the thing that got me though – there is a love that is so unrequited, you can feel it pulse through the pages as you read. Tragic yes, but joyous in its discovery. I have been reading and re-reading certain sections of this book, and each time I do, I long to travel to Siena; imagining a time of medieval glory, when there really lived a Romeo and Juliet, not in Verona and not of the house of Montague or Capulet but of the houses of Tolomei & Marescotti. Interestingly enough we learn more of the third family, the Salimbenis.
I would love to see Palazzo Salimbeni for example, for it really does exist. I gathered from the author’s notes that the bloody and gruesome feuds between the two families were much worse than Shakespeare’s re-telling of the play, but Fortier has really tapped into something beautiful. I also felt saddened by the fact that 14th century women had no free will as was the case for many women in days of old- it is highlighted here because the author has emphasized the point in the story- when they were bartered off from one house to the other just so their fathers, uncles etc. could maintain peace within their households through marriage whether true love existed or not.
I don’t want to give too much away, so here’s a little bit of the story: Julie Jacobs goes to Sienna after a family tragedy leaves her with nothing but a key that may or may not, unlock a family treasure. The author throws in a strong sibling rivalry; Julie has a sister Janice, who is the exact opposite of her, greedy, selfish and out to make fast buck, there is Aunt Rose, whose death leaves Julie devastated and lost and then there is Umberto( part friend/butler) who in many ways is a father figure, and helped aunt Rose raise the girls when their parents died suddenly in Italy. She finds out that she is a descendant of Giulietta Tolomei and in fact has the name Giulietta herself, she learns of the curse on the houses of Tolomei and Salimbeni as in the curse of Romeo and Juliet, which Julie might now have to break if the two families are to ever exist in peace. The author then cleverly weaves in and out of the 14th century, switching from modern-day to A.D. 1340, as our Julie who is now a modern day Giulietta, sets about solving the mystery of the key that opens the box her mother left her; this, in turn unlocks the ancient story of Romeo Marescotti and Giulietta Tolomei. The historical part of the story introduces a devastated Giulietta whose entire family has been murdered by the Salimbenis as she leaves her home in a coffin under guard by Friar Lorenzo( who becomes a close friend) to live with her aunt and uncle Tolomei. Saved by Romeo on their treacherous trek, (although he does not know Giulietta is alive for he sees a dead girl), Friar Lorenzo takes refuge at the house of an artist,- who is instrumental in bringing the two together- Romeo later catches sight of a painting of Giulietta, whilst posing for his own Marescotti portrait and the first seeds of love are sewn. As the love story is revealed, we learn that Romeo asks his father to propose a marriage between Giulietta and himself, although reluctant to get involved in the Salimbeni/Tolomei feud, Marescotii who is well liked and respected by both families decides to approach Tolomei with his offer. Unbeknownst to both Romeo and his father, Salimbeni who is quite old( he is essentially Shakespeare’s Paris) sees Giulietta and wants her for himself( slightly creepy as Giulietta is not quite 16) here tragedy unfolds.. we are then led to present day Julie/Giulietta who much against her will/partly battling an attraction, falls for the dashingly handsome Alessandro Santini who has a mysterious past himself…. This novel is a twisting pathway of historical fact and fiction, I literally did not want to put it down.