“‘But not too much pain, am I right? Not too much, never too much. If it was too much, you wouldn’t know what to do with me, would you? Too much would make you uncomfortable. Bored. My crying would leave a bad taste. That would just be bad theater, wouldn’t it? A bad show. You want a good show. They all do,'” (Awad 294).
After a fall off stage ends her acting career Miranda Fitch becomes a theatre professor, a job she finds little joy in and finds difficult to do since she suffers from chronic pain as a result of her accident. But Miranda is excited for the show she’s decided for this year’s Shakespeare performance, All’s Well That Ends Well, in which many years before Miranda played the titular role and hopes her class will find as much love for this problem play as she does. But her class is disappointed with the selection and mutiny to perform Macbeth instead. Devastated by the disrespect of her students Miranda goes to the pub she often frequents after rehearsals and finds three men in suits who know her name and apparently, everything about her and offer help in a golden drink. She takes it and soon Miranda finds her life changed in unimaginable ways, but like all theatre a good show is expected and can Miranda deliver it?
I adored Bunny and when I learned Mona Awad was writing a new book that was all about Shakespeare and theatre I could hardly wait for it and like Bunny, All’s Well didn’t disappoint. Awad’s writing is fantastic as always, beautiful descriptions that put you right in the story. This book is also an excellent adaption, kudos to Awad for being able to blend two very different works of Shakespeare into one strange, horrifying novel.
The horror of All’s Well is very different from Bunny, less grotesque and bloody and more complicated and personal. While I’m not a chronic pain sufferer there are many people in my life who are and I felt that Awad’s description of Miranda’s pain was accurate and that the low self-worth and identifying herself so close to her pain was realistic as well as horrifying. The real horror for me was when Miranda visited her physiotherapists and doctors, how she would communicate her pain and be ignored and put in more pain. Considering there is a very real problem of doctors listening to female patients, Miranda’s voicelessness in having her pain being taken seriously by medical professionals to be especially horrifying and her friends dismissal and willingness to believe she’s being dramatic was heartbreaking to read.
I don’t know if Awad was ever involved in theatre or to what capacity but regardless she gets it, understands what the students would be like, the nepotism and hierarchy of it all as well as the rush of being watched onstage. I will say that I was confused by the very very end, literally the last two pages, of the book. I’ve sat with them for a few days since finishing and I think I have a better idea of what Awad was going for. Better, but still not clear. It didn’t make my enjoyment of the book any less, I like books that make me think and the ending fit.
Overall, All’s Well is an excellent book, one I honestly can’t stop thinking about and will probably end up buying. A must-read for Shakespeare fans, lovers of theatre, and anyone who adored Bunny.
Publication: August 3rd 2021
Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada
Pages: 368 pages (Hardcover)
Genre: Fiction, Horror, Literary Fiction, Magical Realism
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤
Miranda is a theatre professor whose life is less than satisfactory. After falling during a performance early in her acting career, she finds herself in constant, seemingly incurable pain and struggles to even sit still. When she hopes to revisit the glory of her acting days by having her class stage Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, she is met with a mutiny from her students, led by her least favourite undergrad–the devious Briana. Forced instead to put on Hamlet, Miranda is devastated at the duplicity of her students, underhandedness of her boss, and is consumed by frustration at the lack of control she has over her own body and life.
When she’s drowning her sorrows at the local pub one night, her path takes a sharp turn. Three mysterious men in suits who seem to know everything about her–her pain, her glory, and her deepest desires–offer to help her. After drinking a glowing, golden liquid, she wakes up the next morning with no memory of the night before, and her chronic pain has lifted. Miranda’s life starts falling into place: she is not only walking but running with ease; Briana has become gravely ill; and a twist of fate allows Miranda to stage her beloved All’s Well That Ends Well. But as a lover of the Bard, Miranda should know that sudden streaks of luck always come at a price…