Le Guin, Ursula: Lavinia.
Le GUIN, Ursula Lavinia Gollancz, 2009 295pp $32.99 pbk ISBN 9780575084599 SCIS 1426907
This novel is a far cry from Le Guin's Books of Earthsea. It assumes some knowledge of history and of The Aeneid, the Latin epic of Vergilius Maro (70-19 BC). A map of ancient Etruria and Latium, along with an 'Afterword', is of help to the modem reader. Even so, a basic understanding of Virgil's poem is necessary. That heroic tale, set in the period immediately following the Trojan War, traces the lineage of the Romans back to Aeneas and Troy. It follows the lengthy odyssey of Aeneas after the fall of Troy to Italy where at Cumae Aeneas is granted the privilege of visiting his father in the underworld. So the supernatural, oracular prophesies, dreams, fate, rites and rituals feature largely in Le Guin's novel. Ultimately Aeneas and the Trojans sail up the coast to the ancient state of Latium, ruled over by Latinus. It is at this point that Le Guin's Lavinia focuses on the eponymous narrator herself, daughter of King Latinus and his Queen Amata. In fact Lavinia plays a relatively small role in Virgil's epic and she, herself, notes this. Le Guin is able to microscopically examine the mores of the ancient world, the Latins, in particular: their religious beliefs and practices, the status of royalty, of women, of slaves, the pecking order of warriors. Details of dress, armour, battle tactics, betrothal customs, ceremonies, sacrifices, games and competitions, feasting and celebration are incidental to the action but part of the fabric of the story. The outcome, although delayed, is foretold.
Latinus, warned by an oracle, sees Aeneas as the man of destiny but Queen Amata thinks otherwise, her favour is with the Latin hero, Turnus. Lavinia becomes an observer and commentator of the action, until her foretold lover strikes down Turnus in personal combat. She and Aeneas are at last free to wed and will ultimately establish the long-promised new nation. It is after the marriage of Lavinia and Aeneas that the voice of Le Guin, the novelist, is most evident. There is far more to this re-creative epic novel than can be encompassed in a review; but there are moral and philosophical insights--into history and human motivation--to be gained for readers of every race and period of time.