In this novel, Ursula K Le Guin gives a voice to Lavinia, a minor character in the works of Vergil who never even utters one word in his version. Lavinia is the second wife of Aeneas of Troy. As the daughter of a King, she has a privileged upbringing and is relied upon in the family to perform or assist in several important ancient rituals. She accompanies her father to Albunea, the sacred place and there she meets a vision of the poet Vergil who gives Lavinia insight into her own life and laments the fact that when he writes about her in the future he does her such injustice. When Lavinia comes of marrying age her slightly off kilter mother pushes her to marry her cousin Turnus. Lavinia learns that she is supposed to marry a great man of Troy who will die shortly after their marriage and a great war will be fought over her. All this comes to pass as Lavinia unfolds her story. Le Guin continues Lavinia’s story for a bit past the death of Aeneas and details her raising her son to be a great King who moves them one step closer to the founding of the great Roman Empire.
While an interesting concept to give voice to a woman who was barely a blip on the radar in Vergil’s writings, I’m not quite sure I really liked this one. It had its strong points, namely she did an exceptional job of painting a portrait of life at that time. It had detailed description of the people, villages, beliefs, and general way of life that were wonderful. I found the idea of Lavinia conversing with Vergil at Albunea and the telling of the Great War between Aeneas of Troy and Turnus over her hand interesting.
I think the main problem for me was the main character. While I like a feminine point of view, the only spunk Lavinia showed was insisting she would not marry Turnus. Other than that it seemed she just sat there and let history unfold as she was told it would. She let herself be led into situations where her mad mother tries to trick her into marrying Turnus anyway and she resigned herself to the fact that Aeneas would die after a certain time and just continued to live life with him as normal. No forewarning him, no extra attempts to be cautious to prevent his death. It was just-well the Gods willed it so no point in fighting it. That kind of irked me a little bit. Also, this was really just the telling of a story and since it was written as such was pretty much devoid of plot. It’s like someone recounting something that happened to them a couple of years back- really no point to it except the telling of the story. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but readers who like their novels to have a point/purpose will probably want to steer clear of this one.