Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Review: Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin

I have a weakness for re-tellings of famous stories from the points of view of different characters. Wicked remains one of my perpetual favorite books in part for that reason. While I'm not familiar (at all) with The Aeneid, I hoped that this re-telling, from the point of view of a woman who is mentioned in the epic, but never speaks, would capture my imagination.

Short version of this review: it didn't.

Longer version: Lavinia has grown up as the daughter of a peaceful king. She takes pleasure in the simple tasks of her home, including helping her father with religious rituals and visiting the sacred oracle at Albunea. But as Lavinia grows into a woman, her beauty, and the power a man would gain by marrying the daughter of a great king, begin to attract attention from a wide variety of suitors. While her mother pushes her to marry Turnus, Lavinia - ever pious - insists she follow the words of a prophecy she and her father learned at Albunea: Lavinia must marry a foreigner.

That foreigner is Aeneus, a Trojan hero who has a prophecy of his own to fulfill. The jealousies of men to lead to war, as they so often do. While Aeneus is successful in fulfilling his end in the prophecy, Lavinia watches in fear as he inches ever closer to fulfilling the tragic end of her own prophecy - and after it is complete, learns how to continue living in contentious times.

Overall, I was just bored with this book. Perhaps that had something to do with the last book I read (Graceling) being such an awesome adventure. Maybe if I knew The Aeneid I would have been entertained by catching references to the original work. But while I'm always interested in women's stories and women's histories, I was just bored throughout this one as Lavinia was so often a passive presence in her own life. Her entire life was ruled by men or prophecy - honestly, she only began to feel engaging in the last twenty or so pages (I just checked and I can't believe it was only that long - not only was I bored, but this book dragged). Since it's totally possible to have a story starring a character who never does anything for her- or himself (Hamlet springs to mind, though that may be just because my fiance has spent the last two days memorizing the 'To be or not to be' soliloquy and Hamlet is kind of taking over the apartment), I guess I'm sort of at a loss as to why LeGuin felt this book had to be written. Since so much of Lavinia's life is spent not doing anything on her own, what does this really add to The Aeneid? If this is what Lavinia's life was like, perhaps there's a reason she had nothing to say in the original poem...
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