Wednesday, August 30, 2006

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

I bring you two reviews this time around, both of which are brand new YA books about Shakespeare's love life. The first entitled THE TWO LOVES OF WILL SHAKESPEARE is by Laurie Lawlor and published by Holiday House. The second is LOVING WILL SHAKESPEARE by Carolyn Meyer and published by Harcourt. While I find it rather odd that two books on a relatively obscure topic should both be published in the same year, it must be pointed out that they are quite different from one another.


Told from Shakespeare's perspective, THE TWO LOVES... is an account of how he just happened to file two marriage license applications on consecutive days for two different women both named Anne. One Anne is rich, beautiful, noble, intelligent, the inspiration of his sonnets, and the former fiancee of his best friend. The other Anne is ugly, poor, ignorant, ill-mannered (of bad temperment) but willing to sneak out of the house at any time for arranged trysts in barns, fields, wherever. Will Shakespeare is portrayed by the author in such a way that he comes across to the reader--at least this reader--as a bumbling, fumbling, immature idiot. He is not clever. He is not charming. He is not romantic. He has absolutely no integrity. He steals at least half of his sonnets from his sister Joan who puts up with her brother the best she can knowing it's her lot in life to take care of stupid men. Shakespeare is shown as a conniving, selfish, uncaring man who steals his best friend's girl, who recklessly sleeps with any woman he can...and who feels no remorse when one of his former lovers commits suicide because she's pregnant with his child, and who does not care about hurting his family or his family's reputation because he knowingly violates the law throughout the book...sometimes getting caught, other times escaping just barely. It is hard as a reader to have any empathy at all for this character. This book would perhaps be better titled the Dumb and Reckless Mistakes of Will Shakespeare. Or perhaps The Lusty Will Shakespeare. Now all this being said, it is not a criticism of the WRITING of the novel. It is just one perspective of how these people might have lived and behaved. In my opinion, not a very beautiful or endearing perspective to hold but a possible realistic one.


Told from Anne Hathaway's perspective, LOVING WILL SHAKESPEARE, is her memoir of sorts. Using the framework of her just having received a letter from her husband in 1611, the rest of the book is her recollection of her life up until that point...a sharing of sorts with the reader of how the then-famous Shakespeare had become her husband. Starting with her early childhood she recounts what life was like growing up in a rural village. Meyer provides the reader with a detailed, believable setting. For example, there are certain historical facts that most readers are intellectually aware of to some extent about this time period...the various plagues that were capable of appearing at any time and destroying entire communities and the ongoing struggle both politically and socially of Catholics and Protestants. But Meyer brings these two issues to life in her book. Anne loses not only her mother to the plague, but twenty years later she loses her fiance to the disease as well. And while none of the major plot lines revolve around religion, many of the minor ones do. As far as romance is concerned, Meyer presents a story where two people who have grown up in the same community become friends over a period of time and their friendship deepens and ripens when Shakespeare is beginning to come of age. It is an intellectual, mutual attraction of minds AND bodies when the time comes. That the young man later falls more in love with the stage and writing breaks her heart, but she accepts what crumbs she's given at that point. And although LOVING WILL SHAKESPEARE is a more romantic portrayal or perspective of "what might have been" is well grounded in that her characters are well-developed. Each character has strengths and weaknesses. Therefore her characters are easier to like and understand.


Since both books are purely fictionalized accounts with no evidence or proof either way--simply not that much is known about Shakespeare's least not his thoughts and motivations. It is simply a matter of choice which perspective the reader wants to entertain in their mind as being "true." If you're a romantic at heart looking for a charming, lovable Shakespeare...chances are you'll love LOVING WILL SHAKESPEARE. If you're a skeptic...particularly a skeptic when it comes to Shakespeare having authored at least some of the work accredited to him, then you might enjoy THE TWO LOVES OF WILL SHAKESPEARE.


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I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

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I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

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