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50 Book Challenge: #3

Lavinia, Ursula K. Le Guin

Lavinia is austere, meticulously researched, beautifully written, but for the most part curiously uninvolving.

Perhaps my greatest complaint about it is that although Le Guin sets out to give a voice to a voiceless character from Vergil's Aenead, the king's daughter whom Aeneas wins in order to found the Roman empire, I finish the book feeling that I don't really know Lavinia any better than I did at the start. She never comes alive, except as a quiet, curiously passive woman who moves through the pages observing the tumult swirling around her. We are meant to feel a great love affair between her and Aeneas, but we are not given any real stake in it.

As a critical reader, I can not help but admire Le Guin's prose. She is a great stylist, and you can feel the careful craft behind every sentence. It's a long time since I read Vergil in Latin, but I sensed that certain passages were direct translations. All in all, this novel read a little like an academic exercise in scholarship and clear, luminous prose.

There is an emotional pay-off at the end that makes up for quite a bit, but I'm not sure I'd recommend the novel to anyone except those interested in the period or who, like me, are long-time admirers of Le Guin's work.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
hunningham
Jan. 27th, 2010 09:37 am (UTC)
This was one of my Christmas books, and I had very much the same reaction, although you've articulated and explained much more than I ever could. I am a long-time admirer of Le Guin, but I decided that I would be unlikely to reread Lavinia and the book is now on the donate-to-Oxfam pile.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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