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REVIEW: Much Ado About Sweet Nothing by Alison May

much-ado-about-sweet-nothing

Ben Messina is a certified maths genius and romance sceptic. He and Trix met at university and have been quarreling and quibbling ever since, not least because of Ben’s decision to abandon their relationship in favour of … more maths! Can Trix forget past hurt and help Ben see a life beyond numbers, or is their long history in danger of ending in nothing?

Charming and sensitive, Claudio Messina, is as different from his brother as it is possible to be and Trix’s best friend, Henrietta, cannot believe her luck when the Italian model of her dreams chooses her. But will Claudio and Henrietta’s pursuit for perfection end in a disaster that will see both of them starting from zero once again?

Dear Ms. May,

As I get older, I find myself having problems with some of the Bard’s masterpieces. The idea that Kate is some shrew just because she’s strong willed irritates me while the way Claudio basically announces to the world that he thinks his sweet Hero is a skank before she takes him back now sends me into a rage. I’ve tried some modern interpretations of “Taming of the Shrew” and have basically written it off as a play that I can’t tolerate any more. When Choc Lit offered me a look at your telling of “Much Ado About Nothing,” I crossed my fingers and decided to see if I had to bid this one farewell and ado. Yippee, skippee for me that it can still stay on my “Go to” list.

I think this is a marvelous updated retelling of the play. Some recent “takes” on it seem forced but this one has the needed wit, humor, and pathos required to tell the tale as well as seeming fresh and modern. Nothing comes off as incongruous or out of place while it still keeps to the necessary details required of the story.

I love what you’ve done to bring the characters into the 21st century. Everyone’s an adult, out on their own and responsible for themselves. Ben is a mathematician whose brilliance can get in the way of his social interactions with others. Trix is a childrens’ librarian who works with their mutual friend Danny, though everyone loathes Danny’s lover John who loves to cause mischief for spite. Claudio is far too aware of how handsome Englishwomen find his Italian good looks while, due to a tragic past event, Henri is frantic to always be the good daughter or girlfriend. Most of the other characters can and have been pared down but the plot is so cleverly constructed that I didn’t notice their loss.

The plot is easy to follow and the way certain aspects of it are executed are very up-to-date and believable. Even if I had no knowledge of the original, this one makes sense and never feels contrived. As with the original, the relationship of Ben and Trix carries the story. They’re the witty ones who amuse their friends with their decade long bickering. The scene where their public argument got them both a ticket for disturbing the peace – really £80 tickets for this? – is a riot. Later, their discussions about how to break the news to their friends – I totally agree that they’re going to have the piss taken out of them – and practicing using the word “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” had me giggling. Ben’s solution for their living arrangements is inspired. But then he does have a Dphil from Cambridge.

But the rub for me was going to be Henri and Claudio. What were you going to do with them? Claudio does come all over as an Italian stallion who astonishes tiny Henri when he picks her. Her tendency to natter and eager puppy personality do the trick to make him seem out of her league but you still show what Trix says and Claudio knows – that Henri isn’t dumb, she just has security issues. As the plot unfolded, I groaned a few times. Is she really going to forgive and forget? I wondered. Can I respect this character as she’s acting now? I did wonder but by gosh, you made me a believer in her final decision. And Claudio does end up paying for not taking her wants into consideration – and in a very modern way, too!

The first person PsoV keep the various characters’ motivations, inner thoughts and feelings cloaked from each other, and I liked how you filled us in on background stuff by going “ten years earlier” or “five months earlier” rather than having each character unload an info dump of information.

The book finishes with a hopeful ending but one that’s not entirely settled. If Claudio finally wises up, he just might be worthy of her – should Henri decide to give him another chance. But in the meantime, things are looking up for Danny and positively blissful for Ben and Trix. Now if those two can just get used to holding hands in public… B

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

21 Comments

  1. Alison May
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 10:28:52

    Thank you Jayne for such a lovely review. You well and truly made my day!
    I also share your view of Taming of the Shrew. I’d love to do a retelling of that but suspect I’d end up changing 90% of the story. I’m not sure I could bear to leave Kate with Petruchio, as they end up in the play.

  2. CD
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 11:16:30

    Well, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is up there with AS YOU LIKE IT as plays that I always try to see if there’re ever on near me. I’ve seen them so many times, I know the scripts by heart so I’m obviously going to read this.

    As for TAMING OF THE SHREW, we do have the absolutely fab KISS ME KATE. Aside from having fantastic, not to mention deliciously risque, numbers – the musical actually manages to make TAMING OF THE SHREW not only palatable but downright hilarious. I’m a card-carrying feminist but that scene when the male lead is gleefully spanking the female lead, on stage no less, just cracks me up every time – here’s the film version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6zsLowDJ6c

    Please don’t take away my feminist card…

  3. Jayne
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 11:35:36

    @CD: Have you seen the 2005 “Shakespeare Retold” version of Much Ado About Nothing? I thought it quite good and in fact, the resolution of the Hero/Claudio part of the play reminds me a lot of this book. Hero finally gives as good as she got. They also do “Taming of the Shrew” in a manner I don’t completely loath though I still don’t like the speech at the end.

  4. Jayne
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 11:40:29

    @Alison May: I had a wonderful time reading it. I’d love to see Kate toss Petruchio on his ass but I’d settle for his public realization that she’s the one for him exactly as she is and regardless of what anyone says.

  5. CD
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 11:42:23

    Oh yes, and how could I forget the delicious Rufus Sewell in the Shakespeare Retold version of TAMING OF THE SHREW. And it works so well because he and Shirley Henderson are portrayed as just as batty, and frankly awful, as each other – they’re basically both overgrown children but so entertaining and with such chemistry. Not to mention how gorgeous Sewell in fishnet stockings [fans self]… Watch it.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSNZiiEzkzc

    And while you’re at it, watch the Shakespeare Retold version of MUCH ADO with Damian Lewis and Sarah Parish. Sublime.

  6. CD
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 11:46:35

    @Jayne:

    Sorry – internet connection is bad so cross posted. As good as MUCH ADO is, I actually prefer TAMING OF THE SHREW in that series. I think it’s just the whole over the top battiness of it along with my abiding love for Rufus Sewell. And I think that they managed to make the last speech work although only just about…

  7. Jayne
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 11:48:39

    @CD: I adore Shirley Henderson. And Rufus in fishnet stockings is divine.

  8. Alison May
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 12:34:25

    I loved the Shakespeare Retold series. Thanks for reminding me of them & I’ve just discovered that they’re on DVD. V tempted.
    I saw the Taming of the Shrew last year with an all female cast. That was interesting & I thought they handled the closing speech well in that the woman playing Katherine delivered it absolutely sincerely but all the characters around her looked horrified/awkward/uncomfortable. It made for very uncomfortable watching, but felt a lot more real than when it’s skimmed over or played as if it’s tongue-in-cheek, which always feels like a cop-out to me. It wasn’t a HEA ending though; it was actually quite upsetting.

  9. Beverley Eikli
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 15:23:36

    Now I really want to read this book! A witty, intelligent and clever re-telling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew puts it into the ‘must buy’ category for me.

    Thank you!

  10. Tabs
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 15:32:25

    This sounded great and I was happy to discover it’s in the kindle lending library. I often have a hard time finding things I’m interested in there but now my February credit won’t go to waste.

  11. Nancy
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 17:16:08

    Much Ado is my favorite Shakespeare, in spite of the Claudio/Hero plotline. I’ve acted in it twice and directed it once and have seen it more times than I can count. While I do consider Claudio and Hero the weakest elements of the play, I chock it up to the mores of the time and focus on the awesomeness that is Beatrice and Benedick. I’ll definitely be picking this book up. Thanks for the review!

  12. ppyajunebug
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 17:55:49

    Oh god do I love Much Ado About Nothing, especially if I can ignore the whole Claudio/Hero bits. Benedick and Beatrice’s battle of wits…ugh I just love it SO MUCH. Now I need to read this book and re-watch the Joss Whedon movie…

    As for “Taming of the Shrew”, I do love 10 Things I Hate About You. It’s definitely my favorite adaptation of the play, followed closely by the Rufus Sewell/Shirley Henderson one. 10 Things could only be made better by Rufus in fishnets. YUM.

  13. Ros
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 18:44:11

    @Beverley Eikli: This book is Much Ado, not Taming of the Shrew.

  14. hapax
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 20:38:29

    I adore MUCH ADO, and will glom onto anything even vaguely related; this sounds a delight.

    The only version of TAMING OF THE SHREW I can stand, though — and yes, I’m including KISS ME KATE, even though I have “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” in rotation on my iPod — is the spoof version done many years ago by the TV show MOONLIGHTING. I’ve got a bootleg VHS version that I still haul out every now and then, and even my kids (who were born after the show went off the air!) get a kick out of it.

  15. hapax
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 20:54:36

    Oh, crumbs. Is this ANOTHER freaking Amazon exclusive?

    So much for that purchase.

  16. Jayne
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 03:54:22

    @hapax: It looks like it’s only at Amazon right now but the Choc Lit website states that there will be more options “soon.” But since it’s a late Nov 2013 release, I’m not sure what their definition of “soon” is.

  17. hapax
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 10:16:49

    Thanks, Jayne. It sounds enough like something I’d love that I’ll put it in my tickler file.

  18. Jody
    Feb 26, 2014 @ 10:15:24

    Does anyone but me remember a 1970s made for TV version of Much Ado with Sam Waterston set in the 1890s? Verges and Dogberry were Keystone Kops. Loved it!

  19. Jayne
    Feb 26, 2014 @ 16:50:24

    @Jody: I’ve never heard of it but it sounds interesting. IMDB says something about Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders being in it.

  20. Liz, Choc Lit Team
    Feb 28, 2014 @ 04:36:13

  21. Joanna
    Mar 10, 2014 @ 21:32:39

    Great review – now I have to read this! And if you haven’t seen it check out the Joss Whedon version of Much Ado – it’s wonderful!

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