Ursula Le Guin, previously Opening: “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.”
I will sum up the rest of this post for you: I AM IN LOVE WITH THIS BOOK.
In Lavinia, Le Guin tells the story of a minor character in the Aeneid, Aeneas’ second wife. I’ve never actually read the Aeneid, but this is the best kind of retelling: one which imparts the flavor of the original and works for those who haven’t read it and (I assume) for those who have. Without being overly pushy, this book is literally about giving voice to a character who has none. And yet, it’s not done in an angry way, or in a subversive one. Aeneas is a hero. Turnus is the foe. The source is obviously loved and respected.
And yet, Lavinia takes over the narrative quietly and firmly. This is, make no mistake, her story. But she is a person, lovely and completely sympathetic, who at the same time makes mistakes. She’s a fascinating character because I’d be hard put to name something she did, in a grand sense, and yet she’s so far from wimpy or powerless. And, look, I love a good sword-wielding heroine as much as the next person, but I love the idea of quiet strength. We don’t get it as often, because it’s harder to write well, but Le Guin does it here.
Also, she meets Vergil before he dies, and I love their relationship and his realization that he wrote her wrong. I love the way the book brings up all kinds of fascinating questions about authorial intent and characters and writing and fate and love and all kinds of other things. I felt myself enriched and stretched by it. It’s not just a book that I enjoyed or laughed at. It’s a book that I loved. So if you like a beautifully told story about quietly strong characters who make mistakes but keep trying to choose the right path, this is for you.
A note about the beginning: the chronology is extremely confused at first. Stick with it. This is a book that rewards patient and close reading and the confusing section doesn’t last too long.
Book source: public library (but going on my wishlist!)
Book information: Harcourt, 2008; billed as adult but easily upper YA crossover