I accepted a copy of The Other Shakespeare for review consideration and it's the first time I've done so in quite a while. As the first book I finished in 2015 I was slightly resentful of it for stopping me from starting the year reading something totally random from my shelves, but actually I found myself really quickly totally engrossed by the plot.
The Other Shakespeare basically questions what would have happened if Shakespeare had been born a woman. It follows the fictional sister of William, Judith Shakespeare, created by Virginia Woolf in A Room of One's Own (which I'm going to read this year!) in her quest for education and ultimately to be a writer and shows the difficulties and massive restrictions society places on her because of her gender, and on the whole I thought it did this very well.
Straight off the bat I'm going to tell you the couple of little things I didn't like about this reading experience. The first is a minor thing and is grammatical. I don't know about my fellow Brits, but I have very very rarely heard a British person use the word 'gotten'. Generally we say 'got', yet Judith and other characters in this novel use 'gotten' on a fairly regular basis and it irked me, as did the incredibly regular use of 'ok', first in common use in mid 19th century America, not 16th century Britain. These are little things but they regularly jolted me out of the narrative and reminded me that what I was reading was fiction and it was a shame. The second I won't go into detail about because I don't want to spoil the book for you, but there's a violent act which takes place and to me it seemed a little gratuitous. I wasn't sure that it was necessary and I don't really enjoy unnecessary violence in novels.
So now that's out of the way, I actually really liked this novel. The story was strong and well written previously mentioned grammar issues aside, and the characters, Judith and her mother Mary especially, were very well drawn. I really found myself rooting for Judith and hoping that despite all the odds she'd find a way to succeed, and I was seriously annoyed with her family for being so unsupportive and constantly telling her to basically get back in the kitchen! I think it's the mark of a good book when it makes you feel, and this book made me angry with how things were for women back then. It really made me feel the injustice, and it also made me actively want to read Virginia Woolf to find out more about the character. I don't think anything else has ever made me feel that before (Virginia Woolf and I have a difficult relationship), so well done to Lea Rachel! Another cool thing which I didn't manage to pick up on because I'm not that smart, is that throughout the text there are Shakespeare quotes (at least one per chapter) and Virginia Woolf reference and the author has made it like a little game or competition almost to find them all. I like it when books have something extra about them!
The Other Shakespeare left me wishing that one of the possible Shakespeare theories could have been that actually he was a she - that Judith had been real and had found a way to succeed despite everything!