Ever wonder what happens after the end of Twelfth Night? You know, how everyone is happily married, how the “bad” guy conveniently disappears? What happens next? Is it really happily ever after?
Well, not exactly. Celia Rees takes the ending of Twelfth Night — the play conveniently summed up for those of us who are unfamiliar with it — and spins it out. It’s no longer a comedy; even though Feste is still around, there is no comic relief. It’s tragedy from the very first sentence. Violetta, Viola’s daughter, is in exile from Ilyria. After her mother’s disappearance, the country is overrun and her father killed, because of a coup her uncle Sebastian and Malvolio directed. Violetta makes her way to London, where she runs into a certain playwright, Will Shakespeare, and enlists his help in finding, and stopping, Malvolio and restoring her to her country as the rightful leader.
It’s an interesting idea; especially since so many of Shakespeare’s comedies are only such by the slimmest margin. A turn of the hand, and everything would fall into tragedy. And yet, this book didn’t grab me. I picked it up and put it down a few times, trying to get into the story, no mean task considering the first chapter or two is highly confusing. Once into chapter three, the story picked up a bit. Shakespeare’s role in the story increased, and Rees’ take on Shakespeare was intriguing: he was a gentleman and a hard-working genius, not a scoundrel or a fraud as I have seen him portrayed elsewhere.
Except that scoundrels and frauds are more interesting. That’s the biggest problem with this book: there’s no interesting character carrying the story. Shakespeare’s only mildly interesting; Feste’s annoying. Violetta’s bland; there’s no chemistry between her and the love of her life, Stephano. In fact, with about 70 pages to go, I decided I Just. Didn’t. Care. and abandoned it. I like what-ifs, and I like adventure, and I like mystery. But it all has to be pretty spectacular in order to get me past characters who don’t grab my attention.
And this one just didn’t.
Rated: Mild, for violence.