Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Plato’s Symposium, and any number of Iris Murdoch novels are blithely conflated in this intricate romance.
The actions occur at and around Casa Luna, the Italian villa rented for a summer holiday by American (though London-based) attorney Theo Noble and his wife Polly. Besides their children Tania and Robbie, the vacationers include Theo’s brother, university lecturer and amateur cellist Daniel, and the latter’s improbable friend, venomous film critic Ivo Sponge; the Nobles’ women friends Ellen von Berg (who’s smitten with Daniel) and Indian divorcée Hemani Moulik, with Hemani’s exotic son “Bron” (Auberon) trailing along; Theo’s rich gorgon mother Betty; and, eventually, black-sheep relative Guy Weaver, host of a TV gardening show. British author Craig (In a Dark Wood, 2002, etc.) mixes and matches them energetically, echoing Midsummer’s actions and revealing (sometimes inexact or overlapping) correspondences between her characters and Shakespeare’s: Theo and Polly are regal Theseus and Hippolyta; Ellen and Hermia, lovestruck maidens Helena and Hermia; Tania, Robbie, and Bron the fairy monarchs Titania and Oberon and the “Indian boy” over whom they quarrel; Guy, of the “braying laugh,” is “rude mechanical” Nick Bottom; and Ivo (who “enjoy[s] playing the trickster and the villain”) is both mischievous Puck and the ardent sexual rival of Daniel (Lysander?). (Betty, oddly, seems to have dropped in from The Tempest or, perhaps, Titus Andronicus). There’s much talk about what love is and isn’t, direct Shakespearean quotation, misadventures in a nearby forest, and several climactic pairings, including one deliciously mordant surprise. Craig knows Midsummer well, but often bludgeons us with needlessly explicit connections (e.g., declarations that the children “were so beautiful, . . . they did not seem quite human” or that “They’re a force of nature”).
Engaging, intermittently ponderous literary horseplay. Shakespeare did it better.