Review: Juliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

Juliet's NurseI enjoy stories that are retellings of classics, so I was delighted when I had the chance to review a book that narrated the Romeo and Juliet story from the nurse’s point of view.  This story begins with Angelica and her husband Pietro who are peasants living in 14th century Verona.  Although they are poor, they love each other dearly and have had a wonderful life raising 6 boys.  When the plague claims the lives of all of their children, they think they will never have the chance to rear another.  One night Angelica experiences sudden abdominal pains and she discovers that she is in labor but never realized she was pregnant.  After days of grueling labor Angelica gives birth to a baby girl, whom she is told is stillborn.

Pietro, in order to give Angelica some physical and emotional comfort, finds her employment as a wet-nurse for an upper class family who had a daughter born on the same day as Angelica’s. Angelica immediately falls in love with little Juliet and cares for her like she is her own.  The entire first part of the story describes the first three years of Juliet’s life, and develops the strong bond that nurse and child share.  I was a little disappointed that Romeo does not make an appearance until about two-thirds into the novel.

I also thought that the diction and word choice in the novel was strange.  The book is written in modern, not Shakespearean, English but the author inserts some Shakespearean language randomly into the text.  It was distracting to read phrases like “by my troth” or  words like “perchance.”   The last third of the novel, when the traditional story of Romeo and Juliet emerges, is particularly full of such Shakespearean language.

The strength of this novel lies in the details it provides about 14th century Italy.  Loveen describes the Cappelletti palace, the clothes of the upper class and the rich banquets that lords use to entertain.  We are also given a glimpse of what it would have looked like to walk around the city and visit its markets and its Duomo.  Juliet’s Nurse helped me to image better the setting of Shakespeare’s Verona.

This book also fills in the story of two characters, Tybalt and the Friar, who linger in the background of Romeo and Juliet.  Tybalt is a caring and sensitive boy who craves parental attention since his own are absent.  He also has a raging temper and fiercely wants to defend his family’s honor.  The Friar is a funny character who tries to do his priestly duties, but also looks out for his own greedy interests.

If you want another, unique perspective of the Romeo and Juliet story, then JULIET’S NURSE is definitely worth giving a try.  Do you like to read retellings of classic stories?  Let me know in the comments!

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Review: Juliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen

  1. I LOVE reading re-tellings of classic stories and I’ve had this book on my mind for a while now! I think writing from Juliet’s nurse’s perspective was a smart one rather than doing the obvious Romeo and Juliet retelling again. I don’t think I’d mind the fact that Romeo doesn’t show up until later now that I know that’s when to expect him. The inconsistent language though… that may be a bigger problem. Who knows? Your review has my interest piqued!

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  2. Another one glaring at me from my TBR pile as I type. Too many books, so little time. From your review, I don’t need to rush, all in good time. As ALWAYS a great review.

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  3. Pingback: Historical Fiction Book Giveaway |

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