In The Aeneid, Vergil’s hero fights to claim the king’s daughter, Lavinia, with whom he is destined to found an empire. Lavinia herself never speaks a word. Now, Ursula K. Le Guin gives Lavinia a voice in a novel that takes us to the half-wild world of ancient Italy, when Rome was a muddy village near seven hills.By a strange coincidence, I started this book at the same time that Nymeth was starting it. We decided to do a buddy review. These are her questions for me. You can read my questions for her on her blog.
Lavinia grows up knowing nothing but peace and freedom, until suitors come. Her mother wants her to marry handsome, ambitious Turnus. But omens and prophecies spoken by the sacred springs say she must marry a foreigner—that she will be the cause of a bitter war—and that her husband will not live long. When a fleet of Trojan ships sails up the Tiber, Lavinia decides to take her destiny into her own hands. And so she tells us what Vergil did not: the story of her life, and of the love of her life.
Lavinia is a book of passion and war, generous and austerely beautiful, from a writer working at the height of her powers.
What was your favourite scene? Why?
- I think my favourite scene was when Lavinia and her friend went down to the beach to see Lavinia's husband for the first time. You have to picture it. Two teenage girls sneak away from their home to spy on a group of soldiers from a foreign land. They could be the enemy, so it was dangerous in the first place, but they also should have been on guard and these girls managed to watch them for quite some time. I thought it was it was a quaint scene in the midst of all the other drama of the time. That is not to say that there were not other scenes that I enjoyed, but that is the one that came to mind first.
What did you think about the way Le Guin framed the story?
- I really liked it. In a way, you knew the whole story before it even unfolded, but if you were like me, there were a lot of names being revealed and without a context I forgot most of the story. I wasn't sure how it would work having Lavinia aware of what was going to happen before it happened, but it turned out fine in the end. It makes you think, really. Le Guin wrote her novel as a poet was telling Lavinia's story. What if that is all that living is? Several books I have read lately have used this idea and I have to admit that it does sometimes give me pause.
What about the setting? I know not all that much is known about Bronze Age Italy, so there isn’t much we can compare it with, but did you find it convincing?
- Like you said, not a lot is known about the history that is represented, but there was nothing in the book that made me think it was entirely implausible. I think for what we know about this time period in history, Le Guin did a very good job of representing it. She didn't try to go too far out of the realm of possibilty just because it is a little known part of history and she is essentially a sci-fi/fantasy author, so I think it worked. I enjoyed it, anyway!
What did you think of Aeneas’ son Ascanius?
- Well, I am not really all that sure. I was thinking this very question while reading this book, to be entirely honest. At times I didn't like him, but there were other times that felt sorry for him. I think he just felt lost. He had been through a lot and was not really sure what was the correct way to handle things anymore. He wanted very much for his father to be proud of him, but at the same time he wasn't sure how to go about doing that. He also lived a lifestyle that was not exactly proper for the times, so he often had to live a lie. By the end of the book, I actually didn't mind him, but in the beginning he was not my favourite character. I also think he got blamed for things that were not really within his control, which made him look even worse than he actually was.
Was there anything about the novel you were less than happy with?
- Actually, I think I consider this my favourite Ursula Le Guin novel. It reminds me of Marion Zimmer Bradley and other female-told novels. There are not enough books of this nature out there, so you have to appreciate what you have. Ursula is an author that I consider a hit or miss author with me, so to be able to say that I loved this book is very rare when she is considered. I am still not a huge fan of her writing style, or maybe voice is the best way to word it, but it worked for this novel. I recommend it!
Another book that I wish I had bought and not just read through the library...