I was so looking forward to an interesting, modern take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. My expectations for Rose & Poe were fairly high – I blame the cute cover – and, based on the synopsis, this seemed like a book I’d enjoy. Unfortunately, I knew by the end of the first chapter that those expectations would definitely not be met.
(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)
(From Goodreads) Set in mythical Belle Coeur County in a time not too far from our own, Rose & Poe gloriously re-imagines Shakespeare’s The Tempest from the point of view of Caliban and his mother.
Rose and her giant, simple son, Poe, live quietly on the fringes of their town — tending their goats and working at odd jobs. Prosper Thorne, banished from his big-city law practice and worrying about his fading memory, obsessively watches over his beloved daughter Miranda.
When Poe erupts from the forest one day carrying Miranda’s bruised and bloody body, he is arrested, despite his protestations of get help-get help-get help. Overnight, Rose and Poe find themselves pariahs in the county where they have lived all their lives. In the face of bitter hatred and threats from her neighbours, the implacable Rose devotes all her strength to proving Poe’s innocence and saving him from prison or worse.
Rose & Poe is a tale of a mother’s boundless love for an apparently unlovable child, and a stunning fable for our own troubled times. It will stick in your memory like sweet wild honey.
This book is marketed as a retelling of The Tempest. It’s not. It borrows characters from Shakespeare’s play, and then plays up what is essentially their worst qualities. Which might sound interesting, in theory, but it got weird, fast. By the end of the first chapter, I had already begun thinking of this book as the sexist lovechild of The Tempest and Of Mice and Men. With a little Beowulf thrown in for good measure.
I’ll jump straight into the bad: this book made me incredible uncomfortable, very early on. It’s made abundantly clear that the character of Miranda is nothing more than a naive sexual object. Granted, she is presented in a similar way in the original play but not to this extent. And in a modern setting, it feels so much more unnecessarily leering. At one point, two male characters had disturbing – and detailed – thoughts about the way Miranda’s nipples showed through her shirt within just a few paragraphs of each other. I tried to look at it as the author making a point, but, if that’s the case, he went so far overboard that the point is dead and gone. I’ve read books that highlighted sexual abuse or sexist thinking from the perpetrator’s perspective, and those books did not make my skin crawl half as much as this book did.
Let’s pretend for a moment we can ignore the blatant sexism in this book, and take a look at Poe. I don’t even know where to start with Poe. I wanted to like him so much, but I couldn’t get past the fact that he’s basically Lenny from Of Mice and Men. He is dim-witted and good natured to such an extent that it felt like a cliche. He’s a large man, but so juvenile that his more mature thoughts ended up feeling inappropriate. It was very cringey, and it just made him very unlikable, which disappointed me. Poe’s mother, Rose, was kind of just… bland. It wasn’t that she wasn’t an interesting character, she was just exactly what I expected given the rest of this story. I wanted her to be the strong female character this book needed, but she just wasn’t.
I just couldn’t get on board with this book. It didn’t feel original and I couldn’t get past the sexism that felt more “boys will be boys” than in any way shining a light on something wrong. I didn’t enjoy reading it. (I skimmed most of it because I couldn’t handle the cringe-y-ness of it.)
★☆☆☆☆ – Unfortunately, this was not the book for me. Perhaps my high expectations led me to dislike this book more than I would have otherwise. (I felt a little bad giving it such a low rating, but I never want to be dishonest on this blog.) Overall, I can’t recommend Rose & Poe, though it does have some great reviews, so maybe you will like it more than I did.
Rose & Poe will be available Tuesday, October 10th.
This book was provided to me by the publisher and NetGalley. All opinions are my own.