REVIEW: Much Ado About Sweet Nothing by Alison May
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