Goodreads synopsis: With a sophistication and mischievousness remarkable for a first-time novelist, Katharine Davies takes inspiration from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and raises the curtain on the interconnecting lives and loves of an unforgettable cast of characters. By turns comic and moving, The Madness of Love is a deftly woven tale of mistaken identity, bold moves, and unrequited desires.
Valentina, a clerk in a London bookstore, is still reeling after her twin brother broke a childhood promise and ran off without her to exotic lands. When she cuts her hair, masquerades as a gardener to the melancholic Leo, and moves to the remote seaside town of Illerwick, she perplexes even herself.
Leo dreams of restoring his estate’s gardens to their former glory as a romantically naïve gesture toward the woman he’s loved all his life: Melody, an English teacher whose beauty bewitches many others. Melody rejects any attempt at capture; she is locked in a state of mourning over the suicide of her dear brother.
As Valentina struggles with the decades-old neglect of flowers, plants, and weeds, her affection for her eccentric employer grows, even as she helps him plot his overture to Melody. The gardens must be made ready for a grand late-summer party. But between now and then, Illerwick will stir with old longings and new desires. As people fall dangerously for those incapable of reciprocating, we see, enchantingly, how our misguided pursuit of passion often distracts us from finding real love.
I’m in the middle of studying Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night with my children, so I thought this re-telling might be a fun read!
Davies’ prose is lovely and quite poetic (although not exactly Shakespearean):
The striking of the match was like a sudden gasp in the silent room.
The plot is lifted directly from Shakespeare’s play, and it translates rather badly to a modern setting. Instead of being fanciful and funny, it turns into a soap opera.
She lay fully dressed on her bed in the stable letting her ears catch her tears until she heard his feet on the gravel path like feet on a lonely shore on the other side of the world. She wanted to go to him, to unbolt the door and fly out into the darkness and fall into his arms.
The biggest difference is that Valentina doesn’t disguise herself as a man. Let’s be honest, women going in male disguise works well enough in literature and theatre (especially in Shakespeare’s time, when the women were played by men anyway), but it isn’t particularly effective in real life, so I was pleased with this change overall. However, it did lead to a confused lesbian plot, which I’m not entirely convinced was an improvement.
Davies provided many references to the original, apart from the obvious plot points. The story begins on January 6th, a traditional date for the holiday of Twelfth Night. The teens of Illerwick perform the play. Leo, in reference to Duke Orsino’s famous speech, is a musician.
I had a problem with the sexual content of the story. I do not enjoy reading about other people’s sex life, and most of the sexual thoughts and actions in this book were decidedly unsexy. This was particularly true of the Malvolio plot. Davies’ treatment turned one of Shakespeare’s funniest plots into a cringe-worthy tragedy.
Overall, I found this to be an interesting read for a Shakespeare fan, but not a great book on it’s own merits.
Now for the look:
She buried her head in the wardrobe and saw a bluey-green color like a tropical sea.
I combined a masculine flannel button down with a flowy feminine skirt, both in a lovely green like Valentina’s party dress. I added my Twelve Days of Christmas bracelet as a nod to Twelfth Night.