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|Book Title: Juliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen
Category: Adult fiction, 384 pages
Genre: historical fiction
Publisher: Emily Bestler Books (Atria Books)
Published: September 2014
Available in: Print and e-book formats
Will send books: USA only
Tour dates: October 20 to 31, 2014
Content Rating: PG
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MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
Juliet’s Nurse is a great example of the perfect historical novel: you take a story you think you know very well, but there are actually so many things you don’t really know about its characters that you fill in the gaps, you put flesh back on the bones, you develop the historical context, et voilà, you have a book your readers are not ready to forget!
When was the last time you read Romeo And Juliet? Like me, you may have forgotten about the nurse Angelica, quite present in the play by Shakespeare. Leveen focuses on her, and also on her husband, on Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, and on her parents. This is a great way of revisiting a play you think you know so well.
Angelica is a great character: she is very down to earth, she is funny, she has an ironic view on life, expressed through great images and a colored language. Her interaction with the other characters feel also so real. The style is so vibrantly human and fresh, this is brilliant.
I enjoyed the use of the historical present, so commonly used also in French literature. It fells much more dynamic to me that the past tense to describe past events.
There are great descriptions at the historical and social levels:
- the contrast between the miserable neighborhoods and areas for very rich families in Verona
- the daily hard work of women
- the awful damages caused by the Plague
- the fights and revenge between families
- the famous Palio-race and its not unusual violence
- passages on the interesting mix between medicine and magical practices, common at the time
There’s even an extra element of mystery added to the story with a great turning point in chapter 10.
I really enjoyed the context developed around the final tragedy. As I observed myself reading the last chapters, I noticed the amazing tension created in the reader. For once, it felt more effective to know already how things were going to tun out between Juliet and Romeo: instead of just having an effect of surprise, I experienced an amazing sense of tension until what I knew met what I read, and when the other characters faced the truth of what I had known before them.
It is also a beautiful tale on motherhood and what it can lead to, and at another level, a great story about bees and honey making!
VERDICT: Stunning historical novel revisiting a Shakespearean play we think we already know all too well, Juliet’s Nurse will captivate its readers by its vibrant presentation of characters and their background story. Brilliant.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
In Verona, a city ravaged by plague and political rivalries, a mother mourning the death of her day-old infant enters the household of the powerful Cappelletti family to become the wet-nurse to their newborn baby. As she serves her beloved Juliet over the next fourteen years, the nurse learns the Cappellettis’ darkest secrets. Those secrets—and the nurse’s deep personal grief—erupt across five momentous days of love and loss that destroy a daughter, and a family.
By turns sensual, tragic, and comic, Juliet’s Nurse gives voice to one of literature’s most memorable and distinctive characters, a woman who was both insider and outsider among Verona’s wealthy ruling class. Exploring the romance and intrigue of interwoven loyalties, rivalries, jealousies, and losses only hinted at in Shakespeare’s play, this is a never-before-heard tale of the deepest love in Verona—the love between a grieving woman and the precious child of her heart.
In the tradition of Sarah Dunant, Philippa Gregory, and Geraldine Brooks, Juliet’s Nurse is a rich prequel that reimagines the world’s most cherished tale of love and loss, suffering and survival. – See more at SimonandSchuster.biz. [provided by Italy Book Tours]
Praise for Juliet’s Nurse:
“Clever, fast-paced, well-researched and beautifully written. Convincing historical details are sprinkled throughout, provoking in the reader the sense of how it must have been in the 14th century. I loved it.”
– Roberta Rich, Internationally bestselling author of The Midwife of Venice and The Harem Midwife
“Lois Leveen’s richly detailed, fascinating novel offers a wholly original and intriguing take on one of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays through the imagined life of Juliet’s faithful nurse, whose secret loves and tragedies rival the young lovers’ own.”
– Jennifer Chiaverini, author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Award-winning historian, author, and former college professor LOIS LEVEEN holds degrees in history and literature from Harvard, UCLA, and USC. She traveled to Verona, Italy, to research JULIET’S NURSE, as well as apprenticing herself to an urban beekeeping group in her adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon, to write accurately about the life cycle of hives.
Lois has given talks in Finland, France, and throughout the US about the historical research behind JULIET’S NURSE, and about how she approached challenging themes of teen violence, suicide, and plague epidemics in adapting Shakespeare for contemporary readers. Her first novel, The Secrets of Mary Bowser, based on the true story of an African American woman who spied for the Union during the Civil War by posing as a slave in the Confederate White House, was a 2012 Target Book Club pick and is currently being developed into a Broadway musical.
Q & A
1. What is your writing schedule like?
I use a particular laptop computer, not the one I use for email, etc., and I sit in a very comfortable chair, no desk, with at least one and preferably two cats on my lap. The thesaurus is always in reach, a real book thesaurus which is so much better than the computer’s version. And I’m surrounded by piles of books and articles so I can research particular points. I write first thing in the morning, 7 days a week, usually for 3-5 hours. The rest of the day, I might be reading for a project, or writing *about* writing, doing an interview like this, etc. Like many writers, I can be crabby when I’m writing, but I’m more crabby if I am not giving myself time to write every day.
2. How did you choose the title?
The title came to me, and it sounded *so* good. That’s why I reread Shakespeare’s play, to see whether it contained enough for me to build a character and a world and a novel, and boy howdy, did it. Titling a novel can be so difficult, so it really is amazing to start with a novel that tells a potential reader EXACTLY what the book is about. And in this case, it told the author, too. Now I just have to remember to let people know the nurse has a name, Angelica. It’s actually in the play, but only once, so no one remembers it.
3. Why did you write Juliet’s Nurse?
I was actually struggling with another novel that just wasn’t coming together, and the title “Juliet’s Nurse” came into my head. I knew the nurse was a comic figure in the play, but the truth was I hadn’t read Romeo and Juliet since high school. So I pulled my copy off the bookshelf, and discovered how incredibly complex and compelling Shakespeare made her. In her first scene in the play, we hear this amazing backstory: she had a daughter who was born the same day as Juliet but died. What was it like to lose one child, and then immediately take comfort in caring for another in such a physically as well as emotionally intimate way?We also learn a bit about her husband, and how he interacted with Juliet. But what was he like? What was his relationship with Angelica, the nurse? Later in the play, Angelica describes Juliet’s cousin Tybalt as “the best friend I had,” which is odd because they’re not in a single scene together. So what was their friendship like? Even in the play, Angelica is an intensely emotional character, and I sensed that shifting the focus squarely onto her would tease out new aspects of this seemingly well-known story. And I’m very interested in what history I can learn as I work on my novels. Here was a way to think about women’s roles in late medieval and early Renaissance Italy, including women of very different class positions. So really, once the idea came to me, I couldn’t NOT write it.
4. What are you currently reading?
I’ve been rereading The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald, which is so weird and smart, and whenever I read it I wish I could write like that. Before that it was The Table of Less Valued Knights, by Marie Philips, because we met at a book event in Toronto. Next is a manuscript a friend wrote that is not yet published, one of the perks of being a novelist! The rest of my current reading is research for my next novel, and the topic is still top secret, so you will just have to wait a while to find out … patiently, I hope!
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Oct 28 – Unabridged Chick – interview
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Oct 31 – Words and Peace – review / interview / giveaway
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Oct 31 – Like a Bump on a Blog – review / guest post
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