Author: Melanie J. McDonald
Genre: Fiction (Historical / Ancient Rome / LGBT)
Publisher/Publication Date: Seriously Good Books (3/11/2011)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: Liked a great deal.
Did I finish?: Yes, gobbled up in a few hours.
One-sentence summary: The 'memoirs' of Antinous, lover to the Roman emperor Hadrian.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: Yes -- it's very dark but quite beautiful and I think it alludes to a scene in the novel quite poetically.
I'm reminded of...: Penelope Fitzgerald, Mary Renault
First line: Such a quiet night, after Alexandria.
Did... I love McDonald's story about seeing Hadrian and Antinous' statues and how it gave her the idea for this book?: YES. It made me a little teary and got me properly primed for how wonderful this novel would be.
Did... I wiki Antinous to see some of the sculptures Hadrian commissioned?: YES, and Antinous is quite a looker.
Did... I tear up at the end?: YES!
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy -- support a small press!
Why did I get this book?: There's a scene in Tipping the Velvet in which the characters act out a tableau involving Antinous, which put him on my radar. I knew only the vaguest details about him so was very excited to see him fleshed out in fiction.
Review: This slender, quiet novel packs quite a punch and is so easy to slip in to, I challenge anyone not to finish it in one sitting! Set in the second century A.D., the story is told by Antinous, a handsome boy from a rural province who ends up the lover of the emperor Hadrian.
Despite the possibility for some serious torridness, McDonald's writing as Antinous had a kind of restraint that felt aloof at first. But as the story progressed, the facets of love, possession, power, and privilege emerged and created a complicated portrait. Was this love? Abuse? Both?
Very little is known about Antinous' life, but I greatly enjoyed McDonald's envisioning of what it would have been like: the competitive schooling and classmates jockeying for power, the tension between Greek and Roman, the jealousies that emerge when one is privileged above all others, and the pain that comes from an unequal love. Additionally, Antinous lived in a fascinating era historically and McDonald included those tidbits -- which made me want to head to a library immediately and read more!
Even if you're not typically a reader of 'gay' fiction, I strongly recommend this novel. It's far from salacious or shocking for the sake of shocking; instead, McDonald envisioned what this historically notorious relationship could have been like, and the result is moving and enjoyable.
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Check out the other blogs on the tour for more reviews and guest posts from the author!
GIVEAWAY! I am so excited to offer a giveaway of Eremenos, thanks to the publisher. To enter, leave a comment with your email address. Open internationally, closes 8/12. On August 1, I'll be posting my interview with Melanie McDonald with another chance to enter this giveaway.