I recently finished reading Anne Fortier's Juliet, a caper through Italy's Siena, the supposed setting for the original version of Romeo and Juliet, made famous by William Shakespeare but a story that predates him. This historical fiction novel is one I picked up off the Notable Paperbacks table on a trip to Raleigh's Quail Ridge Books. Whatever I pick up from this table never disappoints. One of the reviews cited on the back cover says the book "reads like a Da Vinci Code for the smart modern woman." So of course I had to have it.
Much like another fictional book I've recently about a previous work, The Sherlockian, Juliet alternates back and forth between the heroine, the modern-day Juliet, an American woman in her mid-20s who returns to her native Italy to sort out a family secret and possible inheritance from her mother, and the original Juliet, the daughter in a powerful, feuding family in the 1340s. The two Juliets are connected by family lineage and the modern-day one has a mystery to solve with the help of her twin sister Janice. The two of them have to decide who to trust of the new Italian relatives and acquaintances, a task that proves difficult.
I loved the spunky modern Juliet and how she approaches her mystery. I liked the characters she came in contact and the descriptions of how society in this small Italian town gets things done. Of course I liked it because of the Shakespeare references and this timeless romantic story. But the biggest reason why I picked up this book and enjoyed it so much is because I've been to Siena.
About 10 years ago my grandmother and I visited the northern half of Italy with a tour group and Siena was one of the places where we spent a day. We learned about Il Palio, an ancient horserace that has happened twice each year since the Middle Ages and then saw the Piazza del Campo where the finish line of the race is in the center of town. There is one horse and jockey in the race for each neighborhood in the city, and the winner gets major bragging rights until the next race: first priority seating in restaurants around Siena and all kinds of other preferrential treatment.
Here are a few of my (scanned in) photos of my visit to Siena. Whether or not you've been to this beautiful, ancient Italian town, I highly recommend reading Fortier's Juliet.