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The Volcano Lover (1992)

by Susan Sontag

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,3302010,401 (3.51)1 / 31
Set in 18th century Naples, based on the lives of Sir William Hamilton, his celebrated wife Emma, and Lord Nelson, and peopled with many of the great figures of the day, this unconventional, bestselling historical romance from the National Book Award-winning author of "In America" touches on themes of sex and revolution, the fate of nature, art and the collector's obsessions, and, above all, love.… (more)
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» See also 31 mentions

English (14)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (1)  Hebrew (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (20)
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
Teenage servant girl goes to work for dodgy sex therapist then becomes model for fashionable painter. First Aristocratic Lover dumps her when she becomes pregnant; Second Lover is kinder, but also dumps her when the chance of a wealthy heiress comes up - he gets rid of her by shipping her off as a gift to his recently-widowed uncle, the ambassador in Naples. The uncle likes her, gives her the Eliza Doolittle treatment and marries her after a decent interval. She becomes a confidant of the Queen (Marie-Antoinette's sister!) and they are all set to live happily ever after, but then there's a Revolution in France, and a Wounded British Admiral arrives in town and has to be nursed back to health...

The real Emma, Lady Hamilton, is a character that only the most brazen writer of historical romance would have dared to invent - her whole life reads like a plot-summary in Name that Book. So maybe it's not surprising that Susan Sontag chooses to write about her from a slightly oblique point of view, taking as her central character Sir William Hamilton, whom we now remember only as a famous cuckold, but who in his own time was known as an art collector, archaeologist, and avid student of the moods of Vesuvius. And who seems to have done a pretty good job representing British interests at the notoriously raffish and corrupt Neapolitan court.

Sontag also messes about quite freely with the conventions of historical fiction - she keeps period authenticity to the necessary minimum and is quite happy to step into frame from time to time and explain something from the point of view of the modern New Yorker. Although the narrative mostly sticks very closely to recorded history, at one point we suddenly realise that we've drifted seamlessly into a story from another medium that we know to be fictional. And as well as inserting her own caustic comments on the actions of her characters and the presumed reactions of her readers, Sontag doesn't mind bringing dead people in as auxiliary narrators (the last word in the book, unexpectedly, goes to the poet and revolutionary journalist Eleonora de Fonseca Pimentel).

I won't say that this was better than I expected, because I expected a lot from Sontag anyway, but it is a book that managed to surprise me and keep my interest, despite being based on a set of events I thought I was pretty familiar with to start with. ( )
1 vote thorold | Nov 9, 2017 |
Excellent historical fiction; and an entertaining examination of the period of the royalist revolt of the Kingdom of Naples against republican France. The three principals in this novel are drawn out slowly as characters for whom we can sympathize. The final chapter allows each to speak for her/himself, as though each is beyond the story.
Susan Sontag saves her commendation for the learned and brave Eleanora Pimentel Fonseca, who edited the principal newspaper of the short-lived Parthenopian Republic in Naples. She compares her with the three main characters, Sir William Hamilton, Lady Emma Hamilton and Admiral Lord Nelson who sought glory or well-being and who did not care to consider the injustices that their pursuit of wealth and refinement inflicted on so many.
  ivanfranko | Jul 21, 2016 |
Series of three mini biographies in which the main characters are (even literally) entwined with each other. First profile of three is most convincing. Sontag's detail is so rich that she seems to have captured the Napoleonic revolutionary era.
  ted_newell | Jun 20, 2015 |
Pretty good book, fairly well-written but with a tendency to be wordy. The story is disjointed, with the first part of the book about the Volcano- lover and his wife, and second part more focused on Lady Hamilton and Admiral Nelson and ends a little flat. ( )
  charlie68 | Aug 14, 2013 |
I didn't love it but it wasn't a waste of time. I liked the prose when it was deliberate, but sometimes it was ponderous. I liked all the bits about the Cavaliere's duties and collecting and obsessing about volcanos. I liked when the penny dropped about who these characters were, what their names were.

But it would have taken me much longer if I had not had enforcedly empty hours to pass.
  ljhliesl | May 21, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
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DORABELLA (aside): Nel petto un Vesuvio d'avere mi par.

       Cosi fan tutte,
Act II
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For David
beloved son, comrade
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It is the entrance to a flea market.
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Esta obra está duplicada
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Set in 18th century Naples, based on the lives of Sir William Hamilton, his celebrated wife Emma, and Lord Nelson, and peopled with many of the great figures of the day, this unconventional, bestselling historical romance from the National Book Award-winning author of "In America" touches on themes of sex and revolution, the fate of nature, art and the collector's obsessions, and, above all, love.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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