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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review: LAVINIA by Ursula K. Le Guin

Title: Lavinia
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Pub info: Harcourt, 2008;  279 pp
Genre: adult / YA fantasy/mythology

Ursula K. Le Guin is one of those authors I've been meaning to read forever. She's a crossover writer, meaning even people who don't normally read fantasy love her. Critical acclaim, awards, best-seller-dom--she's achieved it all. I'm so glad I finally got started on her canon.

Goodreads summary:
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. Now, Ursula K. Le Guin gives Lavinia a voice in a novel that takes us to the half-wild world of ancient Italy, when Rome was a muddy village near seven hills.

Lavinia grows up knowing nothing but peace and freedom, until suitors come. Her mother wants her to marry handsome, ambitious Turnus. But omens and prophecies spoken by the sacred springs say she must marry a foreigner—that she will be the cause of a bitter war—and that her husband will not live long. When a fleet of Trojan ships sails up the Tiber, Lavinia decides to take her destiny into her own hands. And so she tells us what Vergil did not: the story of her life, and of the love of her life.

Lavinia is a book of passion and war, generous and austerely beautiful, from a writer working at the height of her powers.

Status: finished [date]

My impressions:
All I can say is, I'm a firm Le Guin fan now. This book isn't for everyone--it isn't a light fantasy, nor would I give it to someone who just wants a quick romp through the ancient world. Heavy on text, light on dialogue, it looks a bit dense and intimidating when you flip through the pages. But give it a try. I've never read The Aeneid, but just knowing that Le Guin has turned it on its head is intriguing (and now I do want to read it). Her portrait of women centuries before the founding of Rome is fascinating--their roles, their rituals, their relationships. Is it accurate? It's impossible to know, but Le Guin takes stuffy history/myth and breathes life and passion into it. Her take on the people and times includes less entanglement with gods than Virgil's poem--or Homer's Iliad, where Aeneas first appears--and creates a portrait not just of Lavinia's life, but that of her city.

Now having read it, would I call it fantasy? Not exactly, but it does have that myth vibe, and the attention to religious ritual and oracles enhance that. So I'm leaving it in the Fantasy for All Ages month. And I stand by my original assertion that this is really an adult novel. Plenty of teens could handle it, but it doesn't read like a YA novel to me, despite how some have categorized it.

About Ursula:
Ursula K. Le Guin has published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, among others. Perhaps her most well-known fantasy series is the Earthsea Cycle. In addition to Lavinia, her recent publications include a collection of poetry (Finding My Elegy) and an essay collection on "how and why fantasy matters" (Cheek by Jowl). She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Le Guin maintains an extensive website here, and blogs at this site.

Want to win a free copy of this book? The first Monday of each month features a giveaway of any of the titles I've reviewed the previous month. Pick your fave, enter, and win! Next giveaway: July 7.


To follow my progress as I bulldoze my way through a stack of 51 to-be-reads this year, search for the tag 2014 TBR Shelf. Read all the reviews here.

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