Monday 25 March 2019

Lavinia by Ursula K LeGuin

Good Reads Revisited

"I felt completely engaged with Lavinia’s thoughts and emotions"

published 2010

biographical fiction
Roman era

"Lavinia is the daughter of the King of Latium, a victorious warrior who loves peace; she is her father's closest companion. Now of an age to wed, Lavinia's mother favours her own kinsman, King Turnus of Rutulia, handsome, heroic, everything a young girl should want. Instead, Lavinia dreams of mighty Aeneas, a man she has heard of only from a ghost of a poet, who comes to her in the gods' holy place and tells her of her future, and Aeneas' past...
If she refuses to wed Turnus, Lavinia knows she will start a war - but her fate was set the moment the poet appeared to her in a dream and told her of the adventurer who fled fallen Troy, holding his son's hand and carrying his father on his back..."

Little is known of the historic Lavinia - she only has a few lines in Vergil’s Aenead - but Ms LeGuin has brought her to life for us. The strangeness of the early pastoral life of Latium, from kitchen to war is completely credible. The research shows but never disturbs. The sacredness of spirit realm which was so important to Romans up to and sometimes beyond early Christianisation is integrated, with visions and mysticism as an important driver in Lavinia’s daily life.

I felt completely engaged with Lavinia’s thoughts and emotions; she had a strong sense of doing the right thing, defined as piety, accepting events when appropriate, but holding firm when she believed in the vision of her fate. Ms LeGuin has been very clever in bringing in the poet Vergil to converse with Lavinia, throwing in the suggestion that Lavinia is a mere construct. It is, of course, for the reader to decide…

As a convinced ‘Roman nut’ who has a penchant for strong women characters, this was a natural book choice for me and the reward was a clever and well-written story.

© Alison Morton

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