Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

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.

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.
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.

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...


  1. Now I'm going to have to add this to my Le Guin collection! Thanks for the review! :D

  2. I saw in comments on Caths blog that you said more people are back to your blog so I tried again( strange because I do try once every day !) and today i got it! I can't say it will happen everyday but I hope so!

  3. I loved your answers! I'm about to post mine now - I really liked the questions you asked me.

  4. I can't wait until I get this book in my hands. You and Nymeth make me want to read it now! Great review.

  5. I loved yours and Ana's "buddy reads" posts!!! And it sure seems you both enjoyed this book. But as I told Nymeth, this book sounds so intimidating to me. Maybe just because it would be something entirely different from anything I've ever read. And of course, different can be very, very good.

  6. Nice to be able to access your blog again. :-) Like the sound of this one, will add it to my library list.

  7. I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never read LeGuin!! Should I start with this one or is there a different one that is better for beginners? I did enjoy reading your thoughts on this one and to know that her voice isn't always a hit with you.

  8. I've often been told I'll love LeGuin, and this review gives me another nudge in her direction.

  9. This does sound good, Kelly. I've only read one book by LeGuin, but I did really like it. Thanks for the great review!

  10. Kelly, soooo glad you liked this! I've had it on my tbr for awhile but hadn't seen many reviews on it. I may bump it up the tbr list!

  11. Anonymous7:47 AM

    Yep this is going on ym wishlist. It sounds like just the kind of book I love, a re-telling with a different slant on a story.

  12. Alice: Hope you enjoy!

    DesLily: yay! Glad you are back!

    Ana: I loved your answers too

    Vasilly: It's a great book. :)

    Debi: Thanks! I really liked this book. I am going to have to buy this.

    Cath: Glad it worked!

    Staci: Just start with this one... It's my favourite so far.

    Julia: You should read her.

    Wendy: I hope you enjoy it!

    3m: It's great!

    Rhinoa: It's a great book!


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