Ever since she was a teenager and fell in love with Roman poetry, Tessa has wanted to be a Classics scholar. By the time we meet her in The Latinist, by Mark Prins, Tessa is about to complete her Ph.D. at Oxford University after climbing her way up the academic ladder. Once she has her Ph.D., she can get a position at another university and make her mark on the scholarly scene. Except that no one seems to want to hire Tessa, despite her stellar track record, and she seems trapped in a highly ironic retelling of the story of Daphne and Apollo. I was utterly hooked by this book. I raced through it because I just had to know if the story would end differently this time.
Tessa lives a life that would seem circumscribed by non-academic standards. She tutors students studying the Classics at Westfaling College (a fictional college at Oxford University). She works on her dissertation about Ovid’s version of the Apollo and Daphne story in Metamorphoses. And she assists Chris, her thesis advisor, as he continues to expand his reputation as a pre-eminent Classicist. She’s either at Westfaling, the Bodleian Library, or her apartment. She lives an ordinary, scholarly life until she receives an anonymous email claiming to contain the real version of Chris’s letter of recommendation that’s been going out with her job applications to British and American universities. It is a devastating document that, if true, is torpedoing her academic career before it even begins. It also detonates Tessa and Chris’s relationship; she no longer trusts him to help her climb the academic ladder.
What follows is (at least for me and other fans of university lit) a gripping, dramatic chase between Tessa and Chris. Because part of this story is narrated by Chris, we know that he loves Tessa. He doesn’t want her to leave him. Even worse, we learn that Chris has been breaking some rules in order to get closer to Tessa. The letter of recommendation is Tessa’s first clue that not everything is as it seems with Chris, but he starts to unravel when she starts to ask questions. His behavior drives Tessa away and, in another ironic twist, pushes her towards an incredible academic discovery that will help her eclipse her mentor. Because I knew that Tessa’s story was supposed to be a retelling of Daphne’s, I felt a lot of tension as I waited for the dramatic transformation that would either mean that Tessa will be free of Chris or destroyed by him.
The retelling at the center of The Latinist is not the only thing going on. There are side plots and Tessa’s deeply satisfying discovery, meditations on mortality and honesty, true love and ironic love and infatuation, the scholarly record, sexism, and so many other topics that I would love to delve into someone. There was so much going on—and I was reading so fast—that I’m going to have to read this book again. And I was so entertained by it that I know I won’t mind a bit.
I really, really enjoyed this book.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.