Saturday, April 2, 2011

Anne Fortier - You've Made Me So Happy!

Anyone who's ever met me probably knows that I believe that I should have been (or was in another life) Italian. If I could choose anywhere in the world to live in my retirement it would likely be a hilltown in Umbria or the Chianti region. The language sings to me, the people call to me, the food, the wine....need I say more? Anne Fortier - who is NOT Italian - must feel the same way because her debut (doesn't seem possible) novel feels, smells and tastes like Siena.

Juliet is the happiest book I've read this year. Sure, we could find some holes in the plot, be cynical about romance, or just slough it all off as light fare, but we'd be making a mistake to do that. Ms. Fortier's imaginative novel is so damn much fun! And, with the world in such tragic disarray, we sure could use some of that right now.

Sisters Julie and Janice Jacobs are as different as night and day. Orphans since their parents died in an auto accident in Italy, raised by flighty Aunt Rose in the states, Julie is a giver (currently teaching Shakespeare camp to school kids), while Janice is a taker, always on the lookout for whatever's in it for her. So, when Rose's will is read and Janice is the sole recipient of the estate both girls are stunned. Janice doesn't look back. Julie discovers that she has been given a passport and a key which may unlock the mystery of her past.

Toggling back and forth in time from 14th century Siena to present day, Fortier keeps the suspense going as Julie Jacobs finds out that she is actually Giulietta Tolomei, a descendant of the original Juliet of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet saga. Adding to the fun, she discovers letters, diaries, and papers that indicate that Romeo and Juliet lived in Siena, not Verona.

 Enter a handsome, imperious stranger, Alessandro, who takes a keen interest in watching over Julie/Giulietta as she pokes around Siena's libraries and museums, and the stage is set for a match made in? Hmmmm - perhaps not heaven, but here on earth several centuries ago?

Having vacationed for way too short a time in Siena several years ago, staying in an old convent converted to a B and B, I can tell you that Fortier's description of the city is right on. You can truly visualize every little side street, vegetable stand, cathedral and hotel.
Her history of the contradas, or old tribal divisions that make up the city, and the glory of the pallio, the horse race through Siena that still goes on today are just perfect, giving background to the story of the family feuds that fuel that action in this simply delightful novel.

No comments: