Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ursula K. le Guin's Lavinia: The Platypus Reads Part CXXXVIII

Being sick this week has left me with some time on my hands and that means that I've had an opportunity to finish reading Ursula Le Guin's "Lavinia" and think on it for a bit.  Without further ado then, here we go.

To state the premiss, "Lavinia" is a retelling of books 6-12 of Virgil's "Aeneid" in novel form and told from the point of view of the Latin princess Lavinia.  The choice is a tempting one for any author as Virgil gives this important character no lines and hardly any time on stage.  As a writer with feminist leanings, one can see why giving a "voice" to the "voiceless" and "objectified" Lavinia would be an instant draw for Le Guin.  However, given the work itself and Le Guin's afterword, it seems as if a feminist critical intervention on one of the arch dead-white-men is the furthest thing from her mind.  Instead "Lavinia" seems to spring from a deep love of Virgil's epic work and a resulting desire to continue to flesh out his world and keep it alive in human memory.  The character of the Latin princess simply affords Le Guin a point of entry, a place where more might be said.

I won't spoil the book for you, but I will offer a few general assessments.  "Lavinia" is an interesting read and different from the run-of-the-mill contemporary pirating of ancient works.  The key factor in this seems to be that Le Guin actually likes Virgil.  Her work is an interpretation, not a hijacking.  That said, however, don't expect another "Till We Have Faces."  There aren't any hidden depths to "Lavinia," just a good and thoughtful tale.  The novel is also at its strongest when it has Virgil's lead to follow.  After Turnus' death, Le Guin is on her own and the work necessarily suffers a bit, though not enough to thwart enjoyment.  To sum: this book won't change your life, but if you like ancient literature and are looking for some light reading it's worth picking up.

Nota bene: I am not the biggest fan of Virgil, though I appreciate him a bit more than I did in college.  If you are a huge fan of the man from Mantua, then I can't say whether you'll love this book or if it will drive you crazy. 

3 comments:

Historyscientist said...

It sounds intriguing, thanks for taking the time to let us know about it. I for one hadn't even heard of it.

James said...

I hadn't either until my wife pointed it out to me a used bookstore. I think the copyright date was 2008.

Graf Spee said...

Hmm, sounds interesting. If you haven't read him, you may want to check David Drake. He tends to do a lot of writing based on Latin and Greek writers. And pretty much anything he writes is worth reading.