Much Ado About Love by Elizabeth Dunk

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Published: January 2016 by Escape Publishing
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Contemporary romance
Source: NetGalley
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, Read My Valentine
Available:  Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Booktopia  ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The author is a friend. I have done my best to give an unbiased review.

Trix Leon and Ben Anthony have two things in common—they don’t believe in love and, together, they set the sheets on fire. Their relationship is safe, uncomplicated, and just what they both need—until John Aragon shows up and gives them a third thing in common: an enemy.

When their friends decide it’s time for Trix and Ben to admit to themselves—and each other—how they really feel, Trix and Ben are caught in a whirlwind of emotion, a promise of something more. But Aragon is determined to destroy everything: Trix’s hard work, her future, and her chance at something more with Ben.

Now Ben and Trix are left fighting for the one thing that neither of them knew they wanted: love.

Much Ado About Love is a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. It draws strongly on its source material, which I felt was both a strength and a weakness of the story.

As expected, Much Ado About Love focuses on the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick, here incarnated as Trix and Ben. Ben is a senior partner at a law firm–a brilliant choice for this character’s argumentative nature. Trix runs the function centre where Ben’s law firm have their biannual retreat. The pair snipe at each other in public and set the sheets on fire in private, telling themselves if love exists it’s for other people. Their relationship has less animosity than is suggested in the play, but the characters are so deep in their denial of love that it works anyway.

The banter between Beatrice and Benedick is one of the highlights of Much Ado About Nothing. Unfortunately, I found this version disappointing. The dialogue in these sections mimicked that of the play a little too closely, changing markedly from the rest of the dialogue. This made it feel a little stilted and out of place.

I was delighted with the modernisation of Claudio and Hero’s romantic subplot, which saw Ro being wooed by Claudia–a young, up-and-coming lawyer from Ben’s firm. Not only was gender-flipping Claudio’s character a great way of updating the plot, but the lawyer Claudia was a far less insipid character. She might still believe in love at first sight, but as a lawyer there was a sharper edge to the character. She knows what she wants and goes after it, without needing her boss Petrea (another gender-flipped character) to do her wooing for her. The down side of this was that it made her belief of Ro’s infidelity harder to swallow, despite some justification existing.

Margaret’s character also comes across much more favourably in this interpretation. By ridding the story of its preoccupation with chastity, Margaret becomes an empowered, sexually aware woman and I liked her a lot more for it. In fact, there were a few moments where I felt like cheering for her.

I was less sold on the villains, particularly John. While there are no real redeeming features to the corresponding character in the play (by his own admission he is “a plain-dealing villain”), I expected a bit more nuance from a modern character. Instead, he comes across as a bit over the top and his ultimate fate made things a little too neat.

Much Ado About Love has some big shoes to fill and doesn’t quite manage it. Nevertheless, it remains an enjoyable read and an interesting take on a classic.

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