Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
[Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through the Goodreads Giveaway.]
In Juliet's Nurse, Lois Leveen takes on the story of the nurse from Romeo & Juliet. The first half of the book is devoted to the bonding between Angelica, the nurse, and Juliet as a newborn through three-year-old. And if you're going to talk about a wet nurse, there's going to be a lot of talk about breastfeeding. But Angelica is also a bit randy (to put it mildly) and her husband can't get his fill of her often enough, so of course there's a lot of sex and sex talk, too. The story also involves Tybalt and his attachment to the nurse and to Juliet, and even to Angelica's husband Pietro and his bees.
For me, by about 30% of the way through the book I'd had enough of the narration of Juliet's breastfeeding, talking about how Angelica lost her virginity to her much older husband at the ripe age of 12, sex jokes, and finding ways to sneak sex with her husband. And the sheer number of times she mentioned her six boys lost to the plague was staggering. Almost every time she mentioned one of their names, it was followed up with something like, "but the plague took them and everything I loved." I feel like there wasn't enough to this nurse to make her into a full character or story. It relied too much on the fact that she was a wet nurse, that she loved Juliet and Tybalt, that she loved her husband, and she missed her sons.
That's not to say it wasn't well-written, and by the time we got to part two things started moving a bit more quickly. It is around the 75% mark where we start getting into the story that Shakespeare wrote, with a few lines from the play thrown in, and the dialogue changing actually quite noticeably to more Shakespearean language. It was not nearly as obvious in the first half of the book as it was when we flash forward to Juliet's 13th year. This part was interesting, although I really had to make myself "get over" how close Juliet and Angelica were since, in this century, it would seem odd (and a bit uncomfortable for me) for a nurse to clean her charge's teeth and sleep cuddled up with her every night (at 13 years old!). There is a lot more to the story of why this happens, and I don't claim to be an historian so I don't know if it would have been normal back then, but even so it made me feel uncomfortable, a bit leery.
The copy I received was an advanced reader, so there were many many typos and wrong words and missing letters and such. Hopefully they have all been fixed in the final release.
It was a good book, but I didn't love it, only liked it. It had an interesting perspective to present, and a strange back story to develop. Nice speculative fiction based on previous fiction. Just not something I really loved.
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