I really don’t like it when books don’t have chapters, so my heart sank a wee bit when I started reading Lavinia. It just makes it easier when you can break off your reading at the end of a chapter. I can see that chapters wouldn’t have worked in this book though.
It really wasn’t a problem with Lavinia, for one thing the book flows so smoothly and easily that I found myself reading it in just three big bites.
Ursula Le Guin has taken Virgil’s epic The Aeneid and concentrated on the character of Lavinia. She is the daughter of King Latinus and is very close to him but her relationship with her mother, Amata, isn’t so good. Queen Amata has never recovered from the death of her two small sons and with Lavinia as the only surviving child her mother’s only wish is for Lavinia to marry Turnus, who is a cousin.
Lavinia has been to the sacred springs of Albunea, where a poet has told her of her future, and Turnus doesn’t feature in it as her husband.
Her decision not to marry him causes death and destruction all round.
Ursula Le Guin certainly knows human beings and the characters are all so believable that before you know it you’re completely wrapped up in a mythology of how the area around what became Rome was settled.
Amongst other things it’s about how wise leaders avoid war and strife because they are able to see the waste and sorrow which it brings to their people.
I found the Afterword to be really interesting too. Le Guin mourns the fact that Latin is no longer taught in schools (and I’ve done that myself here) she says:
So with the true death of his language, Vergil’s voice will be silenced at last. This is an awful pity, because he is one of the great poets of the world.
All in all, a very enjoyable read. The only other books of hers which I have read are the Earthsea ones and her book of short stories The Sea Road but I’ll have to dig some more of her books out.