Cynthia Haggard's Reviews > O, Juliet

O, Juliet by Robin Maxwell
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May 09, 11

Read in May, 2011

You’ve heard of ROMEO & JULIET, so you don’t feel like reading an historical novel about them. But you would be wrong. For Robin Maxwell’s O JULIET performs the remarkable feat of taking a well-worn story and making it fresh and new.

Set in 1444, when Lucrezia Tornabuoni marries Piero dei Medici (an event that actually happened), the story of the star-crossed lovers is woven in with this historical event. Eighteen-year-old Juliet Capelletti is best friends with eighteen-year-old Lucrezia Tornabuoni. But whereas Lucrezia is fond of her 25-year-old fiance, Juliet is disgusted by her fiance, Jacopo Strozzi, who is physically unappealing, stiff and clearly in it for the money.

Sadly, Juliet goes to the ball to celebrate Lucrezia’s betrothal, knowing it will be the last time she will partake in the Virgin’s dance (for she is soon to marry the revolting Strozzi), when her wrists are grasped by a masked figure. In the garden of the Bardi Palace, she discovers an attractive young man who loves Dante’s poetry as much as she does. They cannot stop talking. But before their encounter ends, Juliet learns that Romeo Monticecco is the son of her father’s worst enemy.

But love wins out, for a time, and Romeo is able to reconcile the two families. Is it possible that Romeo and Juliet can live happily ever after?

To find out, you’ll have to read this novel.

I have praised this novel to the skies, because I think it deserves it, both for its lively characters and well-developed plot line. But there is one problem I feel I must mention, because it pulled me out of my fictive dream. There are too many TELLs in the text. What do I mean by that? I mean narrative where the author tells the reader what is going on, rather than allowing her to discover it for herself. Let me provide two examples from many in the text.

Example No. 1:
“Do you not fear God’s punishment?”
“What worse punishment can he have in store any greater than this?”
Lucrezia’s face was full of anger. I needed to make her understand.

The last sentence is a TELL. I would rewrite it as:
Lucrezia was silent. Her jaw clenched and a vein throbbed in her temple. How could I make her understand?

Example No. 2:
I heard voices echoing in the hall outside the salon door. My father’s was clearly recognizable, as was Jacopo’s. I strained to hear Romeo’s but was unrewarded. Trying to remain calm, I asked permission to go and relieve myself.

This excerpt is replete with TELLs. I would rewrite the excerpt as follows:
The sound of voices echoing in the hall outside the salon door struck my ear. My father’s soft baritone intermingled with Jacopo’s nasal whine. But where was Romeo’s mellifluous bass? I folded my shaking hands, lowered my lashes and took breath. “May I be excused?” I said to the Contessina. “I need to visit the commode.”

I don’t know how these mistakes crept in. I noticed them, because i was recently called out by a prospective agent for making the same mistakes. He told me that “Like a beginning writer, I had a tendency to overwrite.” And then pointed to mistakes of this nature in my manuscript.

Ms Maxwell is such a talented writer. But all writers need editors to help them perfect the text. It is a shame that the editors at Penguin’s New American Library imprint did not do that.
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