Monday, January 27, 2014

The Love-ArtistThe Love-Artist by Jane Alison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was initially excited about this book. The opening was catchy and the writing very descriptive. I always like the idea of turning a mysterious actual event into fiction. In this case, Ovid, the Latin poet of the Roman Empire, was banished  from Rome by decree of the emperor Augustus. The reasons for his banishment are not known. Alison demystifies the historical event by making the exile the result of a smashup love affair between Ovid and a witch named Xenia and a plot by Augustus's granddaughter Julia. The love affair, she posits results in Book VII of the  Metamorpheses: Medea.

At some point, I became aware that I was "plodding" through the book. Almost nothing happens on the page, but rather one feels as though one is reading about events that happened long ago. Now, this IS a historical novel, but I want to feel some immediacy when I'm reading it.

The writing became overly florid. Or as one reviewer said: The writing IS lyrical - and many times too much so. You're left floating in a sea of prose and often the ground of reality is left so far below you can't even see it.

Ovid and Julia had no (for lack of a better word) character arc. Xenia was more complex, but rather predictable. In the end, I wondered if one of Rome's greatest writers wrote only because he worried about being forgotten. I suppose if the result is The Metamorphoses, he might be forgiven for that.

I also wondered if people unfamiliar with Augustus's Rome would follow some of the events that are only obliquely referred to? I have read a lot of novels and studied the history of that period, and I was left scratching my head.

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