The Midsummer Players stage an outdoor version of A Midsummer Night's Dream every year on Midsummer's Eve, in a glade in a forest. The actors have a wonderful time, even though they’re dreadful. Audience members appreciate the effort they put in and applaud politely, but almost never attend more than once. Except for...
...the fey folk!
All of the fairies named in the play are obliged to attend every performance, due to a deal that they struck back in the day with a mischievous Master Shakespeare. In an attempt to disband the irksome Midsummer Players on the eve of their twentieth anniversary, Oberon and Puck hire a human agent of chaos to infiltrate the actors' ranks and set them against one another by focusing on secret attractions and grudges that have been lying dormant up to now. Sparks will fly, and everyone will come to blows, but it's all executed with a wink and a grin, and there will be more smiles than tears by the end. At least, that’s the plan...
Inspired by the Bard's immortal play (which it also weaves into its plot), this light-hearted Comedy is a novel in the spirit of the movies Smiles Of A Summer Night and A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, and the musical A Little Night Music. For lovers of Shakespeare, chaos and fairies everywhere.
I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
By now, I should be used to receiving surprises once I open my Kindle to a new Darren Dash book. Right? But when I opened my email and saw that this book was to be derived from Shakespeare and comedic in nature, I admit even I scratched my head a little. Dash's three previous literary offerings have been horrific in their own way, despite being different genres, so what was I to expect from a comedy?
Frankly, combining Dash and Shakespeare (both childhood favorites of mine), would make me want to dive right in, and so I did.
It starts out with Del Chapman, the aforementioned human agent of chaos. He sets the tone by sending out a computer virus through an entire company's computer system, destroying it for fun. He then steals a car and goes joyriding. It's only when he crashes said car near a glade in Limerick, Ireland that things start to get weird.
The fairy Puck rescues him ... but he wants something in return. Del must infiltrate an amateur showing of A Midsummer Night's Dream and destroy it so that the humans never, ever perform it together again.
Enter ... everyone else. The rest of the characters are made up of a middle-aged married couple, a beautiful young actress, a romance novelist and her new husband, a gay DJ and his boyfriend, and a shy banker. It's not a super large cast, but their backstories and issues mean you really need to pay attention to remember who is who, who's sleeping with whom, and who wants to sleep with whom.
This book is highly adult in nature, so anyone under 18 might want to shelve this till their next birthday.
The story, while occasionally venturing into Feyland and getting highly fantastical, is a hyper-realistic tale of humanity. There is cheating, discovering one's sexuality, blossoming romance, sex-for-opportunity, body image issues, secrets, lies, and so much more than I ever expected to find in less than 500 pages about amateur actors in Ireland.
You get this intricate, stripped bare look at humanity. There are no frills in this story. It's all right there, in your face. Dealing with weight, age, infidelity, identity, and the truth so dark you need a floodlight to see it properly. It's funny, yes. Some things had me actually laugh out loud. But this is darker than it seems on the surface, and about so much more than fairies wanting an acting troupe disbanded.
Anna and Nuala are by far my favorite characters, but everyone had an endearing quality about them (even Terrence, whom I wanted to slap more than once), especially Finn, the changeling from Feyland. We got to see him assimilate to the human world, and alternately, we got glimpses of Diarmid, a human, learn to love Feyland. Those moments of them discovering these new worlds and falling in love with them were truly some of the most shining moments of the book. The scenes are filled with sweet wonder, little pockets of light amidst the chaos of the main story.
I loved the diversity. Bisexual, gay, questioning, straight, cross-dressing: there was a little of everything in this small cast, and the representation without shame, without it feeling forced, was wonderful.
The best thing about Dash's writing is how well he writes people. You never get the same character twice, and every single one is handcrafted, unique, endearing. He has a talent for making characters feel like they're real, like you know them and care about them. I don't know how he does it; maybe he has a little bit of Puck's influence in him, like the Bard did so long ago.
As always, I end my review by telling you that you need to buy this book. Why? Not because I am a longtime fan of his, but because this book rocks. I don't care if the name on the cover was Joe Blow, this story should be read by pretty much any human over the age of 18, because it literally has something for everyone, a character to relate to or sympathize with.
While it isn't my favorite Dash book (An Other Place still holds that title), A Midsummer's Bottom is engaging, humorous, and intricately woven to grip you and take you straight to a beautiful green glade in Limerick.
Another brilliant offering from Dash!
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH DARREN DASH:
- Midsummer's Bottom is obviously based around the famed Shakespeare play. What is your favorite work by the Bard and why?
Well, I kind of have to say A Midsummer Night's Dream or the fairies will come and attack me! But in truth my opinion changes over the years, based on the quality of different productions, the mood I'm in when I watch them, etc. I love King Lear, but I've seen a couple of dull enough productions of it. Hamlet is, of course, majestic, but I'm giving it a wide berth at the moment, as I saw several versions of it in a relatively short period of time and I've overdosed on it. One of the ones that really stands out for me is The Tempest. I saw a local (Limerick) production of it many years ago, where they completely converted a theatre, and it was my first exposure to what theatre can be in the right hands, where it becomes an immersive experience rather than something you just sit back and watch. The players - the Island Theatre Company - also put on A Midsummer Night's Dream a year or two later, and it was that production that led me to write Midsummer's Bottom -- their version was slickly presented and very professional and funny, but I came away from it wondering what might happen if a bad set of players got their hands on the play, and Midsummer's Bottom is the result of those musings.
- The cast is amazingly diverse, even by today's standards. Who is your favorite, least favorite, and why?
Finn (a human changeling who has been raised by the fairies in Feyland and comes to Earth for the first time in the book) was the most fun to write. I've always enjoyed comedies where fish-out-of-water get to experience our world and society, e.g. Star Trek IV, or a brilliant 1970s film called Being There. It allows us, the readers or viewers, to see ourselves through different eyes and chuckle at what ludicrous creatures we are. I didn't have a least favourite character -- I tried to devote roughly equal time to all the main members of the cast, and I felt attached to them all. They're a bunch of bumbling fools, for the most part, but my plan wasn't to be cruel and write a book where readers would laugh at the dunderheads in it -- my point (which Shakespeare was always keen to remind us in his plays, and especially his Comedies) is that we're all fools in our own ways, exactly like the actors in Midsummer's Bottom, and we should celebrate and laugh at our foolishness.
- If you could visit Feyland, would you?
Are you kidding? I'd be over there in a heartbeat if I had the chance! Like Del in the book, I don't think it's a place I'd want to linger too long - I like the chaos and foolish uncertainty of our world - but I'd certainly love to spend a short vacation there, if only to see what the Hairy Mountain that I mention in the book looks like!
- If you could sit down and meet any of the characters in the book, who would it be and what would you do/talk about?
Hmm... While I'd love to name-check one of my own creations here, a certain bard from Stratford makes a cameo appearance in Midsummer's Bottom late on in the book, and how could any writer not want to sit down with the shade of Will Shakespeare and quiz him about his incredible works? (As an aside, the character of Shakespeare has my favourite line in the entire book, when he comments on his (in)famous use of iambic pentameter...)
- You've written about many mythological and paranormal creatures during your career as both Darren Dash and Darren Shan. What creature have you yet to tackle in a book and want to?
To be honest, I don't have a bucket list of monsters. I'm always far more interested in telling a good story than I am in writing about specific creatures. I don't look for stories to go with monsters -- I look for good story ideas first, then start wondering what sort of creatures might best fit them.
- If you were Del, contacted by Puck, would you agree to do as he wished and ruin the play? If yes, would you do anything differently than he did?
Del is pretty much my avatar in the book, so I'd have done everything much the same as he did. As for ruining the play... his aim was never to just wreck it, but to elevate it to a point of such ridiculousness that it would actually become an engaging work of wonder on its own terms. Like Del, I'm all for creating great art out of chaos!
- Last, if you had the ability to make Puck the fairy cause mischief for anyone, anywhere in the world, who would you sic him on?
Anyone who, likes the actors in the book, takes themselves too seriously. We humans are silly things, and we should never forget that, or frown upon mere silliness. I like to think that if Puck really existed, he would be like The A-Team -- "If you know an anally retentive stick-in-the-mud, if no one else can make them smile, and if you can find him, maybe you can hire... Puck!"