Wednesday 21 January 2015

I am Juliet

I received this book half way through last year, and while I'm always sorely tempted by a new Jackie French, I must admit that the Shakespearean content put me off for a while. Too long as it turns out, I should have trusted Jackie, her skill and judgement to make Shakespeare readable. Even for me. I'm no Shakespearean scholar, but I do go and see the touring company of Bell Shakespeare each year (and sometimes I understand it), but it's not a format that I'm drawn to.

I am Juliet is an amazing first person account from young Juliet Capulet herself. Within pages I was in the thrall of Juliet's world. Juliet is a lonely young girl, cared for by servants, being educated as befitting a young lady of her station, her parents distant. It's a beautiful evocation of the time.
No father would employ a young dancing master for his daughter, but Master Dance looked as if he were made of sawdust, so old a breeze would blow him back to dust. His legs were like a sparrow's in his cotton stockings. 

Juliet faces all the same troubles as any teenager, she is looking for a sense of self in her life even though she is about to be married off at 13.
I would be my father's daughter and my husband's wife. But Juliet, who was she? A person as insubstantial as our shadows on the wall. 

The major events of Juliet's love for Romeo are well known by many of us- their story has been told in many ways over time- the play, movies and paintings document their story, but this in no way detracts from Jackie French's story of Juliet. I've only ever seen the play once I think, and quite some time ago at that. Perhaps I should watch the recent(ish) movie version, I don't think I ever got to watching it.

There are over 30 pages of author's notes at the end of the book where Jackie expands on many of the themes of the story and where she is able to tell of the broader historical context of both Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet. There are many fascinating aspects to both, and to the history of I am Juliet itself. Jackie was inspired to take on I am Juliet after talking to some high school students who were studying Romeo and Juliet, and hating it. (In her Acknowledgements Jackie says that she didn't realise how ambitious a task she was taking on until she was well into it!) Those students complained about "All those words".

This books cuts down those words, leaving only those spoken by Juliet or in Juliet's presence, as the story is told from her point of view. Even those words have been cut back a little in places, or clarified-

I'm sure those students would have loved Jackie's version to help ease their entry into the often terrible world of studying Shakespeare at high school. I certainly know that I would have enjoyed her version of Henry IV Part I much more than the original.

I continue to be astonished at Jackie French's prodigious output, and the quality of her writing, and her stories. (Check out her latest catalogue) Her scope is so varied- I don't know that there are too many topics, formats or genres that she hasn't pursued, and the books keep coming, despite the fact that she is our current Australian Children's Laureate. She is seemingly indefatigable.

And yet there are even more books on the way. There are at least two more books in this Shakespearean series coming soon, Ophelia Queen of Denmark due out July this year, and Third Witch due out next year. Jackie also another great sounding, completely separate series of books starting later this month with Birrung The Secret Friend.

The lovely folks at Harper Collins sent me a review copy of I am Juliet.


Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I'm always intrigued with authors who can write so widely. Wish she'd head over to the US for a little book tour.

Brona said...

I struggled to get into this one when I tried it last year...but I was in a bad mood that w/e and I had trouble finding any book to soothe my soul!

I generally like French's novels when the topic is one that interests me.