As soon as I read the email inviting me to take part in the blog tour of Fair Rosaline, I knew that I definitely wanted to be involved. Why? Because just like Wide Sargasso Sea, a re-imagining of Jane Eyre’s ‘mad women in the attic‘ that is a literary classic in its own right, I felt Fair Rosaline would be a thought-provoking, subversive novel. I am happy to say I was not wrong as Natasha Solomons’ re-telling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet definitely challenges what many believe to be the greatest love story of all time.
I have to be honest with you here, as I am a sucker for a love story – I did need some convincing. Like many people Romeo and Juliet was the first ever Shakespeare play I ever read and studied. I was first introduced to this ‘love story’ when I was about 15 years-old working towards my English GCSE. As well as working through the play, my class also watched the 1968 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet which was directed by Franco Zeffirelli. This cast two young teenagers in the lead roles (which has since generated lots of controversy due to some scenes). However at the innocent age of 15, I was a big fan of this film, cementing my view of Romeo and Juliet being a great love story. Watching various interpretations of the Shakespeare classic at the theatre and on screen many times throughout the years since in which the actors cast as the leading characters are always a similar age, like many people I had never questioned my romantic view of this famous story. Well that is until now…
As I highlighted above, I did need some persuading that the premise of Romeo and Juliet, often regarded as the greatest love story all time was a lie. Yet even though I was resistant to this new interpretation, Natasha Solomons’ narrative, which completely pulled me in, did convince me. I am now desperate to go back and read the original play!
Fair Rosaline is brilliantly told from the point of view of Rosaline. In the original play, Rosaline never actually features but is referred to by Romeo and his friends as the start of the play as Romeo prophesises to be madly in love with her. In a desperate attempt to see Rosaline, who is also the cousin of Juliet, Romeo sneaks into the Capulet ball, and that is where he first encounters Juliet. Romeo and Juliet immediately fall madly in love with each other. Or so we have been led to believe…
For centuries it has been believed that Romeo’s love for Rosaline was unrequited. We have also been led to believe that Romeo is a similar age to Juliet, who is on the brink of turning 14. Yet in Solomons’ thought-provoking portrayal, Rosaline, who is only aged 15, is immediately enamoured by Romeo and responds to his all consuming attentions. Romeo is also around the age of 30! Natasha Solomon comments on Romeo’s age in her very insightful author’s note at the end of the novel.
Against her will, Rosaline’s family plan to send her to a nunnery. So when Romeo proposes marriage, Rosaline readily accepts as not only is she in love with him, but she realises it is her chance to escape the life of a nun. As they continue to meet in secret, the lover’s relationship develops further with Rosaline loosing her innocence in more ways than one. Yet sinister doubts begin to creep into Rosaline’s mind, especially when she is confronted by a young girl who claims to be pregnant with Romeo’s child. Don’t worry, this is not a spoiler!
As Rosaline realises that Romeo is actually a love rat that preys on young, vulnerable girls, his attention suddenly turns to her younger cousin, Juliet. And so the story of Romeo and Juliet begins, but not as we’ve always believed it to be…
I love how subversive and thought-provoking Fair Rosaline is. Rather than viewing the traditional story as a tragic love story, I view this brilliant novel as feminist, and also gritty and seedy. As well as challenging my perception of Romeo, it has also made me look at the character as Tybalt in a new light. Since first being introduced to Romeo and Juliet all these years ago, I have always viewed him as a bit of a meddling villain. But now I view Tybalt as a tragic hero.
Fair Rosaline was released on 3 August 2023. If you love a novel that challenges the literary status quo and/or a looking for a great book to discuss in your book group, then I definitely recommend this! Believe me, it will make you think and generate lots of discussion. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if Fair Rosaline is viewed in the way Wide Sargasso Sea is viewed – as a feministic, modern classic.
Thank you Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to the blog tour of Fair Rosaline. To follow the blog tour, please see below.