The Players: A Novel of the Young Shakespeare–Stephanie Cowell

I’ve always wondered how Shakespeare could write such beautiful love poetry and leave his wife and children in Stratford.  Cowell’s novel tries to give us that answer.  She begins with Shakespeare as a young man and traces his lusty relationship with Anne and follows him into London as he flees from that suffocating sense of the ordinary life sans passion that stretches out before him.  Cowell’s story argues that Shakespeare’s famous love sonnets were written for the Earl of Southampton, with whom she portrays Shakespeare as having a rapid and wild affair through their shared lover, Emilia.

As with her novel portraying the early life and loves of Mozart, Cowell manages to humanize the legend and rekindle my interest in his work.

Finished 5/22/12


Love in Idleness–Amanda Craig

Smart chick lit.  Love it.

Theo and his British wife, Polly, have rented an Italian farmhouse near Cortona for a two-week summer holiday.  They’ve invited Polly’s friends, Hemani and her son Bron, and Ellen, a shoe and handbag designer, to join them.  Theo’s brother, Daniel, and his friend, critic Ivo, along with Theo’s and Daniel’s mother, Betty, round out the adults.  Guy, a gardener made famous on Channel 4, joins later.  Polly’s and Theo’s children, Tania and Robbie, provide impish/ill-bred undertones to the vacation.

Theo has made partner in his firm and is a workaholic who has stopped having sex with Polly.  Polly has let herself go and has lost herself in being the stay-at-home mom she desired in the face of her academic-feminist mother’s own benign neglect.  Daniel is an American academic who stayed in Britain after graduate school and now feels pressure from Betty to marry, preferably Ellen.  Hemani is a recently divorced eye surgeon who has cut herself off from her sexuality in order to be the perfect single mother.  Ivo plays the inveterate playboy.

Craig creates her story along the lines of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, complete with firefly fairies and love potions.  Daniel needs to realize he is really in love with Hemeni and Ellen that she really needs Ivo.  Theo and Guy have secrets to reveal, also.  Poor Polly’s story is left to be told in another volume, which is possible as Craig has interwoven one large cast of characters through at least three novels, as she relates in her acknowledgements.

The story is genius, really.  It combines the Anglophile’s fantasy of living in Britain and the American’s romance of vacationing in Italy.  Curvy women find love, paunchy men get goddesses.  Vile children become sprites and the drudgery of caring for home and children becomes a life phase.  And Shakespeare fans get to live a good story all over again.  What’s not to like?

I’m starting Craig’s In a Dark Wood and approach it like a bag of Lay’s.  You can’t eat just one.

Finished 4/26/12