Written by Anne Fortier
Random House/Ballantine Books, 2010; 447 pages
Julie Jacobs, the heroine of Anne Fortier's novel Juliet, has spent most of her twenty-five years living in the shadow of her more vivacious twin sister Janice. Janice seems to do everything right, win all the friends and appropriate all the goodies for herself while the unkempt and less talented Julie drags behind. But Julie's life gets a lot more interesting after the girls' Aunt Rose dies. Rose has raised the twins after the deaths of their parents and they've always thought of her as more of a mother than an aunt. But when Rose's will is made public, it turns out that she's left everything to Janice; the only legacy Julie receives is an airplane ticket to Italy where the girls' parents met and married - and died when Julie and Janice were toddlers - and a key to a safety-deposit box that is supposed to lead to an old family treasure.
And with that, she's off to Italy on a convoluted and dangerous adventure involving her ancestor, Giulietta, whose real-life love for a young man named Romeo was supposedly the basis for the tale told by Shakespeare and other authors down through the ages. Julie (today's Giulietta, of course) meets the descendants of the families of the two lovers, and tries to track down the treasure while at the same time avoiding the curse that's supposedly still at work on the families. Naturally, she falls for the modern-day version of Romeo - his descendant Alessandro, who works for the Italian police. And she's stalked by a mysterious and seemingly malevolent leather-clad motorcyclist who shadows her every move.
I really wanted to love this book. I think the idea is a good one, and there were parts that were very well done. The scholarship was impressive (although in her Author's Note, Fortier gives her mother credit for the research), and the setting in Siena was nicely drawn. Unfortunately, the story just didn't live up to its promise. Julie is such a sad case, wallowing in jealousy and self-pity for most of the novel, that I frequently just wanted to shake her and tell her to shape up and get a life. Move. On.
Also, this is one of those books that include a lot of shifting back and forth between time periods. And, as usual, just as I would get interested in the modern-day part of the story, I'd turn a page and find myself back in the 14th Century. Actually, I think Fortier's imagining of the "real" Romeo and Juliet is a very engaging tale, and would have made a decent novel all on its own without the silliness of the modern-day adventure-romance thrown in. But that would have meant losing the "evil" twin, Janice, who was really one of the bright spots in the book.
As I said, I didn't love the book. But I didn't hate it, either. Overall, it's not a bad read if you can stick it out to the end (at over 400 pages, it takes a bit of commitment to make it through). Fortier is definitely a talented writer, but Juliet is probably not her best work.
[Note: I received the advance reading copy of this novel free of charge from the publisher. No other form of compensation was offered or accepted, and no one attempted to influence my opinion of the book.]