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.