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Lavinia (2008)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,618777,515 (3.83)202
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 in the poem. Now, Ursula K. Le Guin gives Lavinia a voice in a novel that takes the reader to the half-wild world of ancient Italy, when Rome was a muddy village near seven hills.… (more)
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» See also 202 mentions

English (75)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (77)
Showing 1-5 of 75 (next | show all)
It was hard to get through because of the shifting timeline. I wish it had been written as historical fiction instead of Lavinia knowing that she was not real, only a character briefly mentioned by Vergil. I did enjoy the second half of the story more than the third because it became a single timeline. ( )
  HonestlyHolle | Jun 21, 2020 |
Read 2019, favourite. ( )
  sasameyuki | May 12, 2020 |
Amazing! Le Guin writes so beautifully. ( )
  TheTrueBookAddict | Mar 22, 2020 |
It is always a pleasure to read Ursula Le Guin. She has a rare talent for creating characters and worlds that somehow effortlessly come alive. Lavinia is no exception. The concept of the book is interesting (though hardly new), an quite engaging. However, I really struggled in the beginning, and it took me a long time to actually warm up to the book and start reading. In the last third or so, the story feels really hastened. Altogether, I didn't feel that the plot was balanced, and many parts felt like they were there just because, with no real purpose and not adding anything to the book. I feel that the potential of this novel has not been fully realized.
Some parts really shone, though. The descriptions of rites, lares and penates were wonderful. Lavinia's inner world felt was depicted in a very touching way, and the character was probably the one I cared for the most of all the books I've recently read. I also liked the way the general concept of fate and duty was dealt with. ( )
  ZeljanaMaricFerli | Feb 20, 2020 |
I had hoped for a feminist retelling in the same vein as Mists of Avalon and Firebrand. While I'm sure that's the spirit that was intended, this book felt flat and uninspiring. While Le Guin's gift with prose made it readable, her attention to irrelevant details made it tedious. If you want a book about pre-Roman religious rites and a laundry list of casualties of war, I would highly recommend the book. Otherwise, you'll be mostly disappointed. ( )
1 vote birthsister | Jan 27, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 75 (next | show all)
Lavinia is a historical novel set in mythical antiquity, Bronze Age Italy in the aftermath of the Trojan War. Le Guin has taken a (very) minor character from Virgil’s epic The Aeneid - in the poem Aeneas’s last wife Lavinia has no line of dialogue whatsoever - and given her voice. And a powerful and seemingly authentic voice too. The landscape, homes, religion, politicking, people and battles are all convincingly portrayed. When reading this you feel as if you are there, immersed in prehistory. Even the scenes in the place of oracles where Lavinia talks to the apparition she knows only as the poet - she could merely be dreaming of course - have the stamp of authority. At any rate Lavinia believes in him, and his revelations are borne out by events. There is, too, enough of a body count - foretold by the poet in a long, disturbing list - to satisfy the bloodthirsty.

For Lavinia starts a war. Not by allowing herself to be taken by men, she says (in a beautifully understated inference to the much more famous Helen) but instead by choosing one for herself. I quibble slightly at who actually chooses Aeneas for Lavinia; she is swayed not only by the lack of suitability of the other candidates for her hand but also by her conversations with the poet. Otherwise she is a strong decisive character, who stands up to both her father, the King Latinus, and mother, Amata, and later to Ascanius, Aeneas’s son by his previous marriage.

Given the book’s context the perennial follies of men are an unsurprising theme of Lavinia, the character and the novel.

Despite its setting the book was on the short list for the BSFA Award for best novel of 2009, which on the face of it is baffling, even if Le Guin is a stalwart of the genres of SF and fantasy. I suppose its proposers could argue that since in the book Lavinia speaks with the ghost of a poet not yet born in her time there is an element of fantasy present. (Le Guin uses the spelling Vergil. I know his Latin name was Vergilius but in my youth the poem was always known as Virgil’s Aeneid.) True too, the past is always a different country. Fictionally it takes as much imagination to invest it with verisimilitude as it does to describe an as yet unrealised (SF) future. Except - sometimes - you can research the past.

This is an admirably realised and executed novel, though, whichever genre you wish to pigeon-hole it with.

Or you could say, as I do, that it is simply an excellent novel, full stop.
added by jackdeighton | editA Son Of The Rock, Jack Deighton

» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ursula K. Le Guinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bresnahan, AlyssaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mata, ManuelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pennacchietti, NatasciaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rodotà, CostanzaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sheckels, JenCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Surgers, MarieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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sola domum et tantas servabat filia sedes,
iam matura viro, iam plenis nubilis annis.
multi illam magno e Latio totaque petebant
Ausonia . . .

A single daughter, now ripe for a man,
now full of marriageable age, kept the great
household. Many from broad Latium and
all Ausonia came wooing her . . .
First words
I went to the salt beds by the mouth of the river in the May of my nineteenth year, to get salt for the sacred meal.
We are all contingent. Resentment is foolish and ungenerous, and even anger is inadequate. I am a fleck of light on the surface of the sea, a glint of light from the evening star. I live in awe.
I know who I was, I can tell you who I may have been, but I am, now, only in this line of words I write.
Like Spartan Helen, I caused a war. She caused hers by letting men who wanted her take her. I caused mine because I wouldn't be given, wouldn't be taken, but chose my man and my fate. The man was famous, the fate obscure; not a bad balance.
But then I think no, it has nothing to do with being dead, it's not death that allows us to understand one another, but poetry.
Not even a poet can speak the whole truth.
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