I was excited to get the opportunity to review Fair Rosaline by Natasha Solomons, thank you to Sourcebooks for the copy!
Was the greatest ever love story a lie?
The first time Romeo Montague sees young Rosaline Capulet he falls instantly in love. Rosaline, headstrong and independent, is unsure of Romeo’s attentions but with her father determined that she join a convent, this handsome and charming stranger offers her the chance of a different life.
Soon though, Rosaline begins to doubt all that Romeo has told her. She breaks off the match, only for Romeo’s gaze to turn towards her cousin, thirteen-year-old Juliet. Gradually Rosaline realizes that it is not only Juliet’s reputation at stake, but her life. With only hours remaining before she will be banished behind the nunnery walls, will Rosaline save Juliet from her Romeo? Or can this story only ever end one way?
Shattering everything we thought we knew about Romeo and Juliet, Fair Rosaline is the spellbinding prequel to Shakespeare’s best-known tale, which exposes Romeo as a predator with a long history of pursuing much younger girls. Bold, lyrical, and chillingly relevant, Fair Rosaline reveals the dark subtext of the timeless story of star-crossed lovers: it’s a feminist revision that will enthrall readers of bestselling literary retellings such as Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell and Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese.
I love the trend we’re seeing recently of classic stories like Romeo and Juliet being retold from new perspectives and in fresh voices. Though I’ve read some retellings focused around mythology, Solomons’s Fair Rosaline is one of the first retellings I’ve seen to look at a play and a part of the Shakespearean canon. Rather than focus on either of the play’s title characters, Solomons weaves a story around “fair Rosaline”, Romeo’s former love who is left at the beginning of the play for the young and beautiful Juliet.
One reason I think people are drawn to retellings and expansions of classic texts is that they provide context that the original piece may not readily serve up to the casual reader. For example, why do Romeo and Juliet fall for each other so quickly and against the objections of their families? Should we make something of the fact that Juliet is very young: “not yet fourteen” and Romeo is older? How do the dynamics of gender and Renaissance culture influence the characters in the play? All of these are questions Solomons explores through the perspective of Rosaline, with language that is both poetic and reveals an intense level of historical research. Her work adds new depth and a more expansive, female perspective to the story of infatuation and tragic love.
Whether or not you’ve spent much time delving into Shakespeare’s works, Solomons’s book is enlightening and enjoyable. Readers will appreciate the nuance with which she approaches the story and flips the idea of the tale of Romeo and Juliet from one of fated and star-crossed lovers to something more complex.