Beatrice and Benedick
By: Marina Fiorato
Format/Source: Paperback; my copy
Hidden in the language of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedy Much Ado About Nothing, are several clues to an intriguing tale. It seems that the witty lovers Beatrice and Benedick had a previous love affair which ended bitterly. But how did they meet, why did they part, and what after oceans apart and divided by war and slander, brought them together again?
In a journey that takes us from the courts of sunlit Sicily to the crippled Armada fleet and from a cruel curse uttered at the stake to the glorious Renaissance cities of thenorth, Marina Fiorato tells a story of intrigue, treachery and betrayal that will shed a new light on Shakespeare’s most appealing lovers.
Oh, man, this book has been quite up there in the want-to-read list (more like the “this-needs-to-be-in-my-life-and-on-my-shelf” list) since…late 2013?/when it was first announced? I mean, it’s about Much Ado About Nothing (review)’s Beatrice and Benedick. And look how pretty the book cover is! (all of Marina Fiorato’s books have pretty book covers) So yes, I was very happy when my pre-order of this book arrived 😛
Once again Marina Fiorato does a wonderful job in bringing Italy to life, this time 16th century Sicily. From the festivals and social practices to the food and just the atmosphere of the island, it really felt like I was there following Beatrice and Benedick’s little merry war. It’s one of those elements of her novels that have been consistently excellent: bringing out the richness of Italian culture as well as the notable differences between each of the major regions in the country. It also really colours the character interactions as well as brings out other elements of the story, such as the dangerous politics–both local and international–and the racial tensions on the island (the Moors play a major role in this story). The role of women in society at this time also plays a major role, as is contrasted by Beatrice and Hero, the other women in the story, and Beatrice’s experiences throughout. Beatrice is an appealing main character in that she chafes and struggles through social expectations to find happiness and a sense of freedom to be who she is.
It was delightful to re-acquaint myself with the characters, albeit outside the play and in a historical context and before their reunion. The characters are much more fleshed out (save again for maybe Don John, though he plays a larger role this time around) and the reader really gets to know what’s going on in Beatrice and Benedick’s head via alternating POV chapters; you really get a sense of why they are the way they are, fleshing out elements that we only know through certain lines in the play, but they are also shaped by the people around them and the situations that they find themselves in. Their scenes are my favourite in the book, just like the play, and it hurt how they were torn apart the first time around.
Having said all that, why didn’t I rate this novel higher? Readers who are familiar with the play probably remember how the story goes, remember certain stand-out phrases, the way that Beatrice and Benedick’s story runs. Well (and I’m going to put the following behind a massive spoiler cut because this will reveal a good turn of the plot):
Despite of this quibble that I couldn’t quite figure out whether I liked it or not, I enjoyed reading Beatrice and Benedick. It’s quite infused with a lot of Shakespeare, so I think Shakespeare readers and fans will have a lot of fun picking out those easter eggs. The historical setting of the story was one of my favourite parts, as well as the push-and-pull magnetism between Beatrice and Benedick. Readers of historical fiction, romance, books set in Italy, and fans of William Shakespeare’s works may want to check this book out.