The Fool’s Girl by Celia Rees

I read a YA book every month for my YA book group, and I didn’t care for this month’s selection at all. The Fool’s Girl tells the story behind the play Twelfth Night, focusing on the daughter (Violetta) and son (Stephano) of the couples in the play.

Normally, I’d expect to enjoy this book, but I found it extremely dour and depressing and didn’t care for the depiction of Shakespeare in at all. It is very brave to write a book with Shakespeare in it because I think that most people who like Shakespeare already have their own ideas about the type of person Shakespeare was. This certainly prevented me from enjoying the book very much. Also, the framing story for the book was so bleak it was hard for me to summon up much enthusiasm for reading when Viola was dead, Orsino is hapless and clueless, Sebastian is a dissolute murderer, and Olivia is crazy and suicidal. For anyone that enjoyed Twelfth Night, this type of premise is a little hard to take. The play does have dark elements in it, but that’s a little different than making the characters from the play mostly unrecognizable. Violetta flees the sacking of Illyria and goes to England with Feste the clown where she meets Shakespeare and tries to foil Malvolio’s evil schemes.

I didn’t enjoy Shakespeare as depicted in this book. He seemed tired and overwhelmed. I would probably be tired and overwhelmed if I lived in the 16th century, but I don’t picture the man who wrote Shakespeare’s plays as having no sense of humor or delight in writing. Rees’ Shakespeare displays neither of these qualities. In portraying a genius author, it took almost 150 pages for Shakespeare to come up with a Cunning Plan, and Rees takes the lazy way out of saying that he has a plan but doesn’t let the reader know the plan which just seems like a cheap way of building suspense into the story. Then there’s a little mini-checklist of Shakespearian references that gets ticked off throughout the book. Is there a skull? Yes! Are there Oberon, Titania, Witches, and Puck analogues? Yes! Is Violetta a Dark Lady? Yes!

This book wasn’t badly written and it was clearly well-researched, but it just failed to entertain me on so many levels. If I could have gotten over the horribly depressing take on Twelfth Night that opened the book, I might have been able to suspend my disbelief more and found this book less annoying. As it is, I probably only finished it because I’m going to have to discuss it with my book group later this week. I really hope that this book doesn’t start a trend of rewriting wretched back stories for Shakespeare’s comedies, because I do not want to read about Rosalind from As You Like It ending up on the street as a toothless meth addict being slapped around by an alcoholic Orlando.