Fair Rosaline by Natasha Solomons

I am (as I am sure you have noticed) a fan of Shakespeare. And I am definitely a fan of people having a go at retelling or exploring other possible narratives of his plays. So, when ‘Fair Rosaline’ was published last year, I knew I had to read it. Now, I appreciate that it then sat on my shelf for quite some time, but it was selected for me as my June pick for my Twelve Days of Bookmas, and I am glad that I have finally read it.

Rosaline is the cousin of fair Juliet. We meet her only in words in the play, and this story is the idea of life before Juliet meets Romeo – a time when Rosaline met Romeo. This is a fabulous premise for a story, and this is a beautifully written story. However, for me, there was a little something jarring about this book.

Natasha Solomon has told a great story, and she has a magical way with words, but the story felt a little like an agenda. A very feminist telling of the lives in ‘fair Verona’ – which is fine, but does not need to be so forced on the reader. I totally understand that, as modern audiences, we have some issues with the idea of age and relationships (rightly so); however, these issues were not the same in the historical context. It felt, all the way through, that we were constantly being told that the age gap in relationships was a problem, rather than it being implied to the reader. And Romeo is categorised incredibly negatively, which, again, may be how the author sees him, but may not be how all the readers see him, and they are not left to form any kind of independent judgement of his character.

It was wonderful to meet Rosaline and give her a voice, and I liked the reimagining of the ending. But, if this was not a story of before Juliet, it could be a fantastic, independent story with no connection to Shakespeare – and I would have enjoyed it so much more if this was just a story about a strong, independent woman called Rosaline, trying to stand up to the expectations placed on her by society. Especially as Rosaline is a character I admired: her character and her determination, and her belief in loyalty to those who deserved and earn it.

So, I am interested, have you read this one? I would love to know people’s thoughts, because I think I recommend this as a beautifully written book – but without the attachment to Shakespeare.

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