The Love Artist by Jane Alison was assigned for an online class I took in the fall of 2013 called Plagues, Witches, and War. The first few weeks of class were spent reading articles and chosen chapters so I was excited to get to the books that were going to be discussed as part of dialogue sessions with the authors. However, I was slightly apprehensive about this book. While I like antiquity, I don’t always like reading about antiquity. Something gets lost in translation for me and I somehow end up being disappointed, so I went in a bit skeptical about whether or not I would enjoy a story about the Roman poet, Ovid.
When I’m wrong, I’m wrong.
I fell in love with this story. It was a bit slow for me to get into. Obviously, I needed to let a few thoughts go before I was able to get lost in it. Once lost, I was sold — even about the magical realism that doesn’t always work but works so very well in the context of this story. I prefer when magical realism is subtle and rolled into believable traits and actions of the characters and that’s what happened.
Basic premise. Ovid, a Roman poet, travels to the Black Sea, and while there, he meets a woman. He becomes obsessed — almost possessed by his obsession — and feeling so inspired by her and their relationship that he brings her back to Rome with him. Xenia, a woman like no other, with no need or want to become a woman of Rome, practices her arts as if she never left her isolated island home. A witch? Maybe. A healer? Also. But what she is a mystery and she remains that way, especially to Ovid who in the thralls of his latest work, becomes even more entangled in a web he can’t get out of.
The Love Artist is not a fast moving story. As a reader, you spend a strange amount of time navigating Ovid’s ego which grows only larger with thoughts of immortality, knowing he’ll be read far into a future he can’t imagine. The love part of the story isn’t love either. Is there admiration? Some. Is there manipulation? A whole lot, actually. There’s jealousy and raw emotion. Deceit. While the action is very little, it’s not what moves the story. The emotions of the characters push it forward to a conclusion.
One of the interesting things about this book being part of the class was having the opportunity to hear the author talk about the book and her inspiration. What seemed to interest her most was the fact that there is no record of why Ovid was banished from Rome by Augustus. She makes an attempt at filling in the details with this story and her interpretation as to why it might have happened. It’s an interesting thought for a story catalyst. I, personally, liked that she didn’t go so far as to fill in the blanks about why he was banished. I liked that sense of mystery surrounding the ending. It fit so well with the mystery that was Xenia, the mystery that was the future, and the mystery that was their life together.
So, final my thought is this: while I wasn’t initially sold on the story, I was sold by the end and the by the way Alison wove a mystery around a historical figure.
The Love Artist by Jane Alison