Thoughts on The Love Artist

The Love Artist by Jane AlisonThe 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

Picador

ISBN: 9781429962193

Today’s Book – Non-Fiction & Travelogues

Today, I’m highlighting three books on my TBR.  I’ve said before that I want to read more non-fiction this year and while I haven’t stuck with my one non-fiction book a month idea, I have added several to my list.  Let’s take a look.

Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the World’s Greatest Empire by JC McKeown – I love strange facts about ancient Rome and this one promises to provide me with facts for days about Roman life, superstitions, and customs.

Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach – This one appealed to me because her travels are centered in Europe.  It’s also got a bit of the finding yourself theme that I don’t so much like but I think I can look past that to enjoy the travel part.

Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams – We live near the Peruvian embassy in DC.  Right now they have banners up celebrating the discovery of Machu Picchu and the photos on the banners make me want to get on a plane.  I also have a friend that hiked the trail this year so there are many reasons this one appeals.

Anything interesting on your list?

Review – Livia, Empress of Rome: A Biography

Livia, Empress of Rome: A Biography

By Matthew Dennison

St. Martin’s Press

ISBN: 978-0-312-65864-9

3.5 stars

A few years ago I read a biography of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, and loved it.  I moved on to a biography of Cicero but never finished it; my interest in ancient Rome waning slightly on the non-fiction front.  My husband, knowing I enjoy reading about this time period, brought home this biography for me and in an effort to read more non-fiction this year, Livia, Empress of Rome made it to the top of pile quickly.

Livia’s life is told through the men in her life.  Starting with her father, then her first husband, the affair she has with Octavian, the man who would become Augustus, and then her sons.  For ancient Romans, who could be meticulous when it came to noting things of importance, weren’t so good about record keeping when it came to women.  Even the date of Livia’s birth is speculation but easy enough to pin down to a year or two.  Her first marriage is rather undocumented much like her birth but it’s when she meets and begins an affair with Octavian that her life seems to become more definitive.  Divorcing her first husband, and merely three days after giving birth to her second son, Livia marries Octavian and she embarks on the journey of becoming one of the first women in ancient Rome to be called empress.

Constantly accused of being manipulative and power hungry, her marriage to Octavian, who is on a path of power himself, surprises no one.  In fact, the descriptions of Livia are less than flattering but that doesn’t stop her husband from portraying her as the pious, divine, and picture of goodness he wants her and every other woman in Rome to be.  The marriage of Livia and Octavian was probably based on love considering Livia never gave birth to a child of Octavian’s and he could have easily divorced her in favor of a woman who could bear him sons.  Apparently though, it didn’t stop Octavian from having affairs which considering his pious public persona, was quite amusing to read about.  Octavian, now Augustus, dies without a son or heir but being ancient Rome, the act of adoption is not unknown and he adopts Livia’s son Tiberius in order keep a line of succession.  For a man who planned everything, not having an heir had to be distressing considering each time he named someone they died.  Rumors abounded that it was Livia who was scheming to put her son Tiberius in line and poisoned the others.  These rumors of poisoning actually followed her throughout her life and beyond but nothing was ever proven.

I have to say for a book that in parts felt dry, and I found myself somewhat annoyed at times when I wanted the book to more about Livia and not the men she was surrounded by, I have so much to say about it.  It wasn’t the best book I’ve read or the best biography, but it was good.  Obviously, writing about someone whose life took place in ancient times is difficult and though this one wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, it was interesting enough.