#BookReview — The Ghostly Father by Sue Barnard
The Ghostly Father
By Sue Barnard
Romeo and Juliet - was this what really happened?
When Juliet Roberts is asked to make sense of an ancient Italian manuscript, she little suspects that she will find herself propelled into the midst of one of the greatest love stories of all time. But this is only the beginning. As more hidden secrets come to light, Juliet discovers that the tragic tale of her famous namesake might have had a very different outcome...
A favourite classic story with a major new twist.
"For what I have done, and for what I am about to do, may Almighty God have mercy upon me. And I have much for which I need to seek forgiveness. During my lifetime I have concealed the truth, encouraged disobedience, plotted abduction, coveted another man's wife, and helped a convicted killer to escape justice. This, for a man of God, is quite an impressive catalogue of misdemeanours."
Hidden in a drawer was a book — a very old book whose pages had yellowed with the passage of time. When Juliet carefully opened the book, she saw, to her surprise, the neat handwriting of an Italian ancestor.
Juliet's grandfather wanted only one thing for his 100th birthday. He wanted Juliet to translate the writing in the book into English so that he could understand the words and read what was written.
What Juliet discovered was a story about two Households both alike in dignity, an ancient grudge, a pair of star-crossed lovers and a Catholic friar whose secret was never meant to be told.
From an illicit love affair of the second son of a wealthy Venetian Count to the streets of fair Verona and a tragic love story that would transcend time, The Ghostly Father by Sue Barnard is the retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but this time it is the Friar that is controlling the narrative.
This story is one of intense and all-consuming passion, but it is also a tale of violent hate that seemingly supersedes everything else. Blood is spilt in the streets of Verona, and a secret so terrible, so destructive that it could destroy lives as efficiently as any steel blade is about to be divulged. With a sweeping narrative that is as compelling as it was engrossing, Barnard has taken a very old story and breathed life back into it. The strong foreshadowing at the beginning of this book hints that this tale will be an inevitably tragic one. But with a novelists intuition for what is entertaining and a healthy dollop of what if? The Ghostly Father becomes a story in its own right.
The Ghostly Father is told almost exclusively from Fra' Lorenzo's point of view. In Shakespeare's play, Friar Laurence is a kindly cleric, who is desperate to restore peace upon the streets of Verona. It is his schemes and his meddling in political affairs however, that, although well intended, hurtle the young protagonists towards certain death. Barnard has taken a somewhat different approach to Fra' Lorenzo's portrayal. Barnard's Fra' Lorenzo is like still water — he runs deep. Barnard takes her readers on an intimate journey and answers some of the questions that Shakespeare's play posed, such as, how does a Catholic friar have an almost mystic knowledge of potions that will render a person seemingly dead? She also answers the question as to why he embroiled himself in Romeo's affairs in the first place. I thought Fra' Lorenzo's depiction was wonderful. He is a larger-than-life man who is dealt a rather dreadful hand in his early years, but who has the serenity to accept the things that are out of his control and be content with what he has. But this contentment is challenged when he reaches Verona, and he finds himself staring the past in the face.
Fra' Lorenzo's relationship with Prince Bartolomeo Della Scala of Verona is an interesting one — he wants to help the Prince, especially after Mercutio's death. But the Friar also has his reasons for behaving in the way he does and mostly they are to do with his past — he does not want what happened to him, to happen to Romeo. How I adored Fra' Lorenzo. He is compassionate, he is gentle, and he worries excessively about his young charges. It is impossible not to like him.
Romeo, in this book, comes across as rather juvenile, which is the way Shakespeare also portrayed him. Romeo is forever in and out of love, and even Fra' Lorenzo, who is very patient with Romeo, laments with a sign and asks "How many levels of heartache will this one bring?" Romeo is in love with the idea of love, and every time he seemingly falls in love, he is insufferable to be around. It isn't until he meets Giulietta that he realises what true love it and then a transformation occurs in his personality. He is still highly-strung and passionate in his feelings, but love tapers him somewhat to become slightly more mature in his approach to life. Barnard's portrayal of Romeo fascinated me.
There are many supporting characters in this story, and if you are a lover of all things Shakespeare and in particular Romeo and Juliet, you will recognise most of them. My favourite character in Romeo and Juliet has always been Benvolio, and I was looking forward to seeing how Barnard would approach his characterisation. I thought Benvolio's portrayal was absolutely fabulous. Like Shakespeare, she has made him a rational young man — the voice of reason when anger and hate threaten to overboil. He is genuine in his grief when Mercutio is murdered, and yet he is still thinking of others and wanting to take care of them. Barnard has also given us a young man who shoulders the responsibility of the House of Montecchi with maturity. When tragedy strikes so dreadfully, Benvolio is dependable, and yet he is also passionate, but not to the extremes as his cousin is. Benvolio's love is reserved, rational, but more importantly, reliable. Benvolio's depiction really enriched this story, and I thought his portrait was a dazzling one.
Barnard's attention to the historical detail must also be mentioned. Barnard has captured the very essence of what it must have been like to have been a friar in 14th century Verona. Barnard also writes with a great deal of authority on the subject of herbs and their uses.
If, like me, you are a lover of Shakespeare's plays, then The Ghostly Father by Sue Barnard will undoubtedly appeal. It will also interest lovers of quality Historical Fiction. In all ways, The Ghostly Father is a profoundly successful story which will stay with you long after you turn that last page.
I Highly Recommended.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
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A Ghostly Father
Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet whose family background is far stranger than any work of fiction. She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.
Sue was born in North Wales but has spent most of her life in and around Manchester, UK. She speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad.
Her mind is so warped that she has appeared on BBC TV’s Only Connect quiz show, and she has also compiled questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck.
Sue lives in Cheshire with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.