The King of Infinite Space, by Lindsay Faye

I’ve never liked Hamlet, and yet, I find that I really like retellings of the play. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead made me laugh and sparked a love of metafiction. I adore the first season of Slings and Arrows. But none of these Hamlets has left me as emotionally devastated as Lindsay Faye’s The King of Infinite Space. This astonishingly beautifully and wittily written version of the story, which transplants the story to modern New York City, softens Hamlet’s pretensions by giving him a better sense of humor while keeping the intellectual depth and complicated relationships. Faye also does utterly brilliant things with minor characters from Hamlet and other plays that had me marveling at her originality. This is one of the best books I can remember reading. I loved every page.

The King of Infinite Space opens with a dream—after all, what dreams might come?—in which Ben Dane meets his lost love, Lia. They’ve been apart for a long time, we learn, and never expected to see each other. They find each other in the burned ruins of the World’s Stage, a theater later rebuilt by Ben’s father. This dream sets the tone for the rest of the novel. We see Ben’s meandering and highly intellectual digressions and Lia’s powerful emotions, as well as get hints about how Faye is going to tweak elements of the original play to her own purposes. After the dream, we move into the waking world and meet Horatio. Ben’s greatest friend, who would do anything for him, is flying to New York because Ben is not doing well even a year after the sudden death of his father and the equally sudden remarriage of his mother, Trudy, to his uncle, Claude. When Horatio arrives, Ben tries to convince him that Jackson Dane was murdered. Something is rotten in the Dane family.

The original plot of Hamlet sprouts subplots. Lia, who is separated from Ben and the main action, is up to something with a trio of women who can do very strange, seemingly magical things with flowers. Robin Goodfellow pops up to sow discord wherever he goes. (What Faye does with Robin is utterly, incredibly genius.) There’s also the subplot that, for me, transformed the book from a much-better-than-average retelling of Hamlet into an emotionally shattering read. Horatio is not just Ben’s best friend. Horatio has been in love with Ben almost from the first time they met. Horatio and Ben shared a night, sometime before Ben’s father’s death, but Ben messed it up by trying to make their relationship go back to the way it was. Horatio bolted. Now that he’s back, every conversation they have crackles with the things they can’t bring themselves to say to each other. It’s clear to everyone—even Ben and Horatio—that they need each other and are desperately in love. Their dialogue includes lines that almost made me sob.

There are not enough adjectives for me to explain how much I loved The King of Infinite Space. I picked it up because I trust Faye’s writing abilities, even though, as I said, Hamlet is not my favorite. I am so glad I did. This book is going on my list of absolute favorites. Readers will need to have seen or read Hamlet (or at least skimmed the Wikipedia summary) to fully appreciate what Faye has created here. That said, I hope that many readers come across this book and that it moves them the way it moved me. I plan to do my bit by recommending it as widely as I can.

Lord, this is an amazing book.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

In Memory of Memory, by Maria Stepanova

When my dad passed away in 2019, my sister, my mother, and I spent hours going through family photographs. We scanned a lot of them to share online with relatives. Others—the best ones, the ones that really captured who my dad was—were put on a memory board for the memorial service. The year before, in 2018, when my last surviving grandparent died, my mother and I traveled to Wisconsin to do something similar with the Latsch family photos. Both times, I quizzed my mother endlessly about who all these people were, what they were doing, what else she remembered about them. Sometimes she could answer and I got great stories about how my uncle annoyed my mother by playing “Cat Scratch Fever” on a loop or about driving the family Cadillac out onto the frozen lake or how my parents managed to meet each other in Rome, of all places. I’m still saddened by the loss of all the stories that went with my dad and my grandmother that we never managed to record. Maria Stepanova has some of the same feelings and questions as she goes through her sprawling family’s archive and belongings, recounted in In Memory of Memory (solidly translated by Sasha Dugdale), but Stepanova is far more intellectual than I’ve been in my thinking about family memories and trying to recreate lost pasts.

I think I would have appreciated In Memory of Memory a lot more if I had been better able to follow Stepanova’s jumble of thoughts. Like her aunt’s apartment in Moscow, everything reminds Stepanova of something else. Thinking about a family meal sends her off to think about Proust, which sends her to thinking about her male forbears’ experiences during World War II. Thinking about faded photographs leads Stepanova to think about high photographic art, which turns into a Salvador Dalí anecdote. There are many chapters that I just skimmed because I couldn’t make myself interested in meandering streams of consciousness about how we memorialize the dead or who owns the past.

The parts of this book that I enjoyed best are the parts where Stepanova actually talks about her family and when she shares what she’s learned about the past to recreate their milieux. Although she claims that her family is very uninteresting, I would rebut that my Latsch relatives are far more boring because they weren’t at least adjacent to big events in history the way the Stepanova’s ancestors were. Her family might not have experienced the lowest lows or highest highs of twentieth century Russian and Soviet history, but at least she had a great-grandmother who was arrested for distributing socialist leaflets in the first Bolshevik rebellions and a great-great-grandfather who lost his factory to the Communists only to have his name later given to a de-Soviet-ified street in Odessa. My ancestors from Germany sat out the Civil War in Canada, then came down to Wisconsin to farm. The episodes Stepanova relates and the letters she shares in In Memory of Memory are among the most detailed, most real expressions of actual life in the Soviet Union that I’ve ever read, even if they are fragmentary.

Readers who can appreciate Stepanova’s references to and musings about literature and art are probably the mostly likely to enjoy all of this book. Readers who want a big family history should look elsewhere for a less frustrating, more focused read. I was definitely in the latter group and, although I hate to fault a book for not being what I wanted it to be, I really wish that Stepanova would have realized that her prose would have been more effective by letting her actual journey through the family archive and her family tell their story. By intellectualizing so much, any subtext that I might have worked out for myself was obliterated by all the thousands of things Stepanova wanted to think about instead.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

The Adventures and Misadventures of the Extraordinary and Admirable Joan Orpí, Conquistador and Founder of New Catalonia, by Max Besora

In the prologue to the descriptively titled The Adventures and Misadventures of the Extraordinary and Admirable Joan Orpí, Conquistador and Founder of New Catalonia, by Max Besora (and brilliantly translated by Mara Faye Lethem), an invented academic explains how he combed through centuries old archival documents to piece together the story of the forgotten conquistador, Joan Orpí del Pou. This academic allegedly found a version of Orpí’s story, as told by a bunch of soldiers during the Siege of Barcelona in 1714. What follows is a madcap adventure through the first half of the seventeenth century, full of anachronisms, literary references, obscene events, and a quest for glory.

Orpí (in this fictional biography) is the kind of kid that makes his parents despair. He’s naive, trusting everyone he meets. He’s curious about all the wrong things, meaning that he’s a terrible student. After failing so many opportunities, Orpí’s father packs him off to law school in Barcelona. Orpí’s smart mouth and inability to keep it close have to be good for something. But a series of wild events lead Orpí to boarding a ship for Spain’s colonies in what is now Venezuela.

“A series of wild events” is a good way to sum up this version of Orpí’s life. Highwaymen rob him. Women wind him up in their schemes. No one gives the Catalan a chance. Enemies plot against him constantly. But this summary barely scratches the surface of the sheer wackiness of what happens in this book. Every page had me gasping in surprise, laughing out loud, rolling my eyes, or gripped by the action. The summary also doesn’t reflect how well Besora captured the idiom of seventeenth century literature. Cervantes and Rabelais are name dropped more than once. Plus, Besora’s dialogue is full of period and anachronistic speech that made me chuckle at the way it wandered through centuries of linguistic evolution. Translator Mara Faye Lethem deserves all kinds of awards for her work on this book. She is pitch-perfect at translating all kinds of voices, dialects, time periods from Catalan, Spanish, and other languages into English. She’s so good that I genuinely thought this book was originally written in English, by someone who knows the history of the language from the 1600s to the present.

The Adventures and Misadventures of the Extraordinary and Admirable Joan Orpí is a remarkable book, even though some of the events mentioned in the book (especially the sexual ones) are hard to take. Thankfully, these are brief and, I think, only included because they were the kinds of things that would have been included in period literature. I mention them because they hold me back from unreservedly recommending this book to fans of historical metafiction and pastiches. I feel like I would need to warn a reader about the orgies and racism while I was talking up this truly outstanding book.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.

Mouth of the Unare River, Venezuela. New Barcelona was founded some miles up the river in 1671 (Image via Wikicommons)

Censoring an Iranian Love Story, by Shahriar Mandanipour

The metaphor of diving into a book like diving into water has never seemed so apt to me as it is now that I’ve finished reading Shahriar Mandanipour’s stimulating novel, Censoring an Iranian Love Story. Getting into the book felt a bit like swimming against the current. By the end, though, coming back to the real world was like surfacing from the depths. I hope this sounds like a compliment, because it is. This novel engaged all of my brain with a multi-layered story that fights back against censorship with all of the unnamed narrator’s ingenuity.

The unnamed narrator wants to wright a love story. He’s tired of writing heavy books in which awful things happen to the characters and they all end up miserable or dead. But writing a love story is perhaps an impossible challenge in post-Islamic Revolution Iran. Correction: Writing it is not impossible. Publishing is. All authors have to get approval to have their books shipped from the printer to the bookstores from an agency that makes sure that every story contains no hint of sedition, dissent, or romance. As the unnamed narrator reveals, even names are fraught. Characters—and all children born in Iran—must be given approved names (usually Arabic names) that don’t glorify past monarchs. The narrator chooses Sara and Dara as his characters’ names, taken from an old children’s book.

The challenges continue after the names are chosen. How can a young man and a young woman meet in a place when men and women aren’t allowed to talk to each other unless they’re married or related? Even if they can meet, how can they talk to each other when every word has to be carefully chosen so as not to inflame any passion? We watch the narrator wrestle with these and other questions in real-time. Sentences are crossed out. Scenes are intermixed with the narrator’s streams of consciousness or memories of meeting with his censor, named for a character out of Crime and Punishment. The censor isn’t the only literary reference. The narrator mentions characters from novels and poems as if they really are walking around the streets of Tehran. He also frequently references the poetry of pre-Revolution Iran, and poets who also had to watch their words so as not to offend or inflame the very pious. But, like those poets, the narrator uses well-known metaphors about flowers and animals that can skate past the censors or deploys ellipsis whenever things are best left to the reader’s imagination.

Censorsing an Iranian Love Story gave me so many stories, all folded into one overall tale of a writer trying to write a love story in a place and time where there are so many barriers between them and their reader that one has to wonder if Sara and Dara are every allowed to express their love openly. Readers who love teasing apart layers, puzzling out symbols, and hoping that a writer can find the words to say the impossible.

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, by H.G. Parry

H.G. Parry’s brilliant and amazing novel, The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, is the kind of book I wish I could write. I know that I am a confirmed reader; I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo* enough times to know that I don’t have the spark. Parry’s novel weaves in and out of a contemporary Wellington, New Zealand and the novels of Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, and more to create a tale about the nature of identity and story. I loved every chapter.

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep begins with Rob Sutherland rescuing his brother, Charley, yet again from something Charley pulled out of a book. No one is sure how he does it, but Charley has been able to read things out of fiction since he was four years old. (He pulled the Cat out of The Cat and the Hat for Rob.) Rob and the rest of the Sutherlands have been trying to help Charley suppress this ability because a) Charley would probably end up in a lab somewhere and b) family takes care of family, no matter how big a pain it is. As the novel opens, Rob has to scramble to help Charley put the awful Uriah Heep back into David Copperfield. Charley accidentally summoned this epitome of jealousy and failure out of Dicken’s novel and Uriah very much does not want to go back.

Of course, things don’t go back to normal once Rob and Charley close the book on Uriah. For one thing, another version of Uriah turns up at Rob’s law office the very next day. Things only get weirder from there when the Sutherland brothers learn (from Sherlock Holmes) that there is a street that doesn’t really exist, where characters and creatures have found a refuge from the real world after they somehow found themselves outside of fiction. Charley is enchanted by the Street. Rob is frightened, because the existence of the Street means that it’s probably going to be impossible to keep Charley’s secret much longer. When the Sutherland brothers—and their ally, girl detective Millie Radcliffe-Dix—discover that there is another summoner (who is a big fan of fictional Victorian villains) at work, the plot of The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep really starts to take off.

Fred Barnard’s illustration of Uriah Heep (image via Wikicommons)

I think my favorite parts of The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep were the bits where Charley had to harness his magical powers through the use of literary theory. I would not have thought that I would be nodding along with a protagonist as he explicates the Jabberwock or Dicken’s social justice. But there I was. It was like I could actually understand the magic words for once instead of just breezing past a bit of Latin. Honestly, if all my English classes had been like watching Charley try to tame the Hound of the Baskervilles, I’d probably be trying for my PhD right now.

If you’re the kind of reader who ever wondered what might happen if Dorian Gray had access to the internet or if multiple interpretations of Mr. Darcy had to cohabitate or just if all your favorite characters could all come out of their pages and mingle, The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep is the perfect book for you. This book is also a great choice for readers who are deeply in love with story and how stories have the power to shape, not just reality, but also readers.

*Good luck to all the writer taking the plunge this November!

Moonflower Murders, by Anthony Horowitz

Susan Ryeland thought that she was finished with Alan Conway and publishing after the firm she worked for spectacularly burned down at the end of Magpie Murders. Moonflower Murders, by Anthony Horowitz, takes place two years later. Susan and her partner, Andreas, now run a hotel on Crete. Things…are not going well. The wifi and the electricity are on the blink. Guests run TripAdvisor scams. Susan and Andreas are too busy to do more than argue. When the Trehernes show up at the hotel with a strange offer that involves the deceased Alan Conway, it feels like Susan has been sent a lifeline.

Eight years before the events of Moonflower Murders, a man was brutally murdered at the Trehernes’ hotel. One of their employees was sent to prison. Sometime after that, Conway interviewed the employees of that hotel and wrote one of his celebrated novels featuring his signature detective. Years after that, Cecily Treherne (one of the owners’ daughters) read that novel and announced that the wrong man had gone to prison…only to disappear herself. The Trehernes have come to Susan, Conway’s editor, in the hope that she’ll be able to tell them what Cecily discovered in Conway’s novel. Susan accepts the job—and the £10,000 they offer—and heads off to Suffolk.

Moonflower Murders was a little slow to start. Oddly enough, I was more hooked when Susan started to read Atticus Pünd Takes the Case and I got to read it over her shoulder. I knew as much as Susan about the real murder and Cecily’s disappearance and, while Susan might have the edge because she knew Conway, I relished the challenge of trying to see what Cecily found before Susan did. The last third was electrifying. Once I got past the halfway mark, I couldn’t put Moonflower Murders down.

Really good mystery novels all teach us something, about human nature or crime. Moonflower Murders taught me how we can fool ourselves when we believe we know the facts. Sometimes these facts are a timeline that makes murder impossible. If the dog barked at this time and the phone rang at that time, how is it possible for any of the suspects to do the deed? Sometimes those facts are identities; we trust people when they tell us their names. Why would people lie about their names? All of the detectives (and me, the reader) beat our heads against those facts until a stray thought made us question everything we thought we knew.

Moonflower Murders is a challenging, exciting mystery novel, as long as you can get through the first few chapters while plot elements and characters slot into place.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

The Dark Library, by Cyrille Martinez

I think that, if you spend enough time around books and libraries, you are exposed to the liveliness of stories so much that it’s hard not to imagine that the books have lives of their own once the covers close and the lights go down. I wonder if this feeling is part of what inspired Cyrille Martinez’s The Dark Library (excellently translated by Joseph Patrick Stancil). After a brief history of the Grand Library—from its origins as a monk’s collection of books to four monumental glass and steel towers—a reader picks up a book that literally calls out to them. This book takes the reader on a wild ride through a blitz of tales and realities that left me wondering about the lives of books more than ever.

The main action of The Dark Library begins when a reader, searching for something to read, enters the Tower of Novels. They compete with other readers to find just the right spot to light in the vast library. After a brief but polite skirmish, the reader sits down in their spot and, by chance, picks up The Angry Young Book. The Book pitches itself straight to the reader. The reader isn’t sure. They don’t know what they read and they’re not sure The Angry Young Book is right for them. I know that feeling well. If I don’t have my to-read pile and its deadlines pushing books into my hands, it can be hard to take a chance on a new book. Will the plot engage? Will the characters make us care? Will the ending leave us satisfied.

The reader decides to read The Angry Young Book and the wild rumpus begins. The plot races along with a strange story of a historian who uncovers a conspiracy before disappearing, possibly into texts themselves. Underneath this narrative is a subtext that I saw as if in neon because I’m a librarian. I daresay authors and dedicated readers will see it, too. This subtext spoke to me loudly of the tension between publishers that want to monetize reading to the absolute last cent while readers who don’t always have that last cent want to cram every story they can get their hands on into their head. The subtext references the struggle libraries have to stay relevant in a world that is always looking for a benefit for every cost. I rejoiced to see that the joy of reading won out in the end, albeit in a new form of great library.

Even though The Dark Library is a very unique story, I was strongly reminded of If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino (one of my very favorite literary books). Like If On a Winter’s Night, The Dark Library is highly metafictional. It rushes through genres to deliver an experience that satisfies—at least for a while—the question of what books get up to when we’re not looking.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.

Afterlife Crisis, by Randal Graham

There is a developing genre called the New Weird, marked by strange civilizations, hallucinatory writing, and a general feeling of “what the hell did I just read?” Randal Graham’s Afterlife Crisis is weird, even if it’s not New Weird. I don’t have a genre label for the kinds of fiction that Graham, Tom Holt, and a scant handful of others write. Graham’s novel, like others in this as yet unnamed genre, is marked by hilariously erudite verbosity; references to literature, myth, science, art, history, psychology, and all the rest of the library; and a determined willingness to play with the laws of reality. I adore these novels. Their loopy wordiness is a pure delight for my bookish soul.

Afterlife Crisis is the sequel to Beforelife, which I have not read. Given how forgetfulness is a running them in Afterlife Crisis and its general weirdness, I wouldn’t say that reading Beforelife is an absolute necessity. I was able to get along just fine. That said, I want more of Graham’s bizarre version of the afterlife and definitely plan to read Beforelife.

Afterlife Crisis follows the adventures of Rhinnick Feynman as he gets wrapped up in other people’s adventures to change Detroit, an afterlife full of people who think that the beforelife is a mental illness and where teleportation is possible. At least, it was possible. Rhinnick Feynman is part way through his search for Isaac Newton at the behest of Abe, the god of Detroit—see what I mean about weirdness?—when the teleportation system suddenly disappears and he has to take a bus to the university. This is probably the most comprehensible part of the plot. It just gets goofier from there.

Rhinnick’s internal monologue made it easy to be a passenger in Detroit. He talks like a post-corporeal Bertie Wooster and I couldn’t get enough of it. Graham’s writing is pitch-perfect Wodehouse. Even though the story twisted and turned all over the place, I was often laughing at Rhinnick’s phrasing. I also loved his (after)world view. Rhinnick firmly believes that the reality all the characters find themselves in is a story written by a great Author who occasionally revises as they go. This belief gives Rhinnick a very laissez faire attitude to things, which also helped the oddities go down more easily.

I really enjoyed this book. I strongly recommend it for readers who also love the gentler side of Weird, especially when it comes with a couple of thesauri worth of words.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles

John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman is this month’s reading group book for The Guardian. I’ve passed on a lot of the books they’ve picked—mostly because I wasn’t terribly interested in their choices—but I was intrigued by the inaugural article about this book that described its blend of Victorian pastiche and postmodernism. I love Victorian pastiche; it’s the extremely broad vocabulary and psychological tension that gets me. What that article didn’t prepare me for was just how funny this book could be, as the author-narrator takes constant potshots at the characters’ frequent hypocrisies.

Although the title of the book leads us to think that Sarah Woodruff is the subject of the novel, we spend most of our time with Charles Smithson. Charles is the epitome of his time. He’s a gentleman of means who can indulge in his love of travel and paleontology. His manners made me think of a Victorian version of the “Well-Respected Man” that the Kink’s sang about in the 1960s. When we meet him, he’s about to take the next big step in his life: marrying a girl who is the female epitome of the time. They’re a perfect couple—at least at first glance. The narrator clues us into some important problems that the couple are not aware of. Charles worries about his more animalistic feelings. (He has a libido.) Ernestina worries that her fiancé will find out that she’s not as reluctant to have sex as she’s been taught women should be. There’s also the fact that the couple barely know each other. The match is good on paper and that’s the most important thing.

The eponymous French Lieutenant’s woman, Sarah, appears early in the novel. She is dressed in black and standing on the Cobb at Lyme Regis, staring out to sea. Shortly after, Charles and Ernestina learn her story of seduction, loss, and shame. The story—and her eyes and auburn hair—fascinate Charles. He risks his reputation to meet Sarah and talk with her. In the end, Charles’ attraction to Sarah tests him. His vague worries about worthiness and propriety catch fire into a full blown existential crisis. He does not want to be a hypocrite like the other men of his station. He doesn’t want to be the man who travels back and forth between wife and mistress. Part of the tension in this book comes from watching to see if Charles can master himself or if he decides to give in to his lust.

What entertained me most about The French Lieutenant’s Woman was the narrator’s voice. I chuckled more than once as the narrator says what it thinks about the various hypocritical characters it introduces to us readers. (The commentary about Mrs. Poulteney is priceless.) I also appreciated the narrator’s interruptions as it discussed the self-created dichotomies of the Victorian psyche; it brilliantly muses on the psychological knots the Victorians created for themselves. These interruptions reminded me of the narrative essays that Hugo and Dickens would add to their novels.

Fowles’ narrator, however, has the advantage of a century’s worth of psychological distance. This distances allows it to be a lot more blunt about what is wrong with these characters. At least, it can be blunt about Charles, Ernestina, Mrs. Poulteney, and everyone except for Sarah. Sarah herself says, more than once, that she doesn’t understand herself. I was irritated by the way the narrator and Sarah failed to create believable motivations for her actions. I didn’t see her as a psychologically realistic character so much as a living symbol of female temptation that haunted the Victorian mind. She inflames Charles, teases and tempts him. It would be easy to blame her for everything that happens to Charles in this book—except that Charles’ problems are really all caused by Charles.

I’m glad I took a chance on The French Lieutenant’s Woman, even though it took me longer to get through it than I expected. Fowles brilliantly recreates the voice of the era and gave me so much entertaining snark that I really did enjoy reading it for all its challenges. I would definitely recommend it to other fans of Victorian pastiche; it is one of the best examples of the subgenre I’ve ever read.

Lavinia, by Ursula K. Le Guin

When I was an undergraduate, I took a classical literature class in which I read the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aenied (at least, enough of the content to get the gist of things, otherwise I would have gone blind). What I remember is a lot of stabbing, gods ex machinaing, and women being treated like pawns. I was not a fan. So when I heard that Ursula Le Guin gave voice to a woman who wasn’t given dialogue in The Aenied in Lavinia, I jumped to read it, to see what she would say for herself.

Lavinia is a historical figure, but between Virgil and Roman founding myths, we don’t know much about it. Le Guin discusses in her notes at the end of the book that, even with all the research she did, she still had to exercise her imagination to fill in the gaps. Then, she added a layer of Le Guin master story-telling. Near the beginning of Lavinia, the woman herself begins to hear the voice of a dying poet who tells Lavinia what’s going to happen to her in the coming months and years. We know that this poet is Virgil. (I loved the comment by the poet about being in a dark, dark wood.) All Lavinia knows is what’s expected of her as the daughter of the king of Latium. She knew that she would be married to another high-ranking man…and she is not thrilled with the choices. The words of the poet, who told her that she would marry a powerful man from the defeated Troy, comes as a relief to Lavinia. That said, she’s not thrilled when she finds out that her marriage to Aeneas will also launch a devastating war.

Lavinia, from De mulieribus claris de Boccace c. 1360s (Image via Wikicommons)

There are a couple of points in Lavinia, when Lavinia asks a man why they’re fighting over such small things or why being a soldier is so glorious. More than once, she’s told that these are women’s questions. Virgil recounts who will kill who and how in a litany that strongly reminded of passages from the Iliad. I can easily imagine ancient Greek and Roman men listening, nodding their heads and admiring at the acts of heroism. For Lavinia—and me as a reader—I just saw violence and senseless death. In contrast, Lavinia is a different kind of hero. She’s the kind of hero who asks why, who asks what the right thing to do is, and who helps pick up the pieces after things go to hell more than once. Of course, no one thanks her for this.

I wish that Lavinia had had a few more intertextual elements. These get lost as the novel progresses and I missed them. I really got a kick out of Lavinia talking back to Virgil and seeing how Virgil’s words played out in Lavinia’s reality. She introduces herself as a fictional creation, but this idea got lost as Le Guin brings Lavinia back to technicolor life. I’m only picking at this nit because I, personally, love stories about stories and about choices authors make about what to include. I daresay there are more readers out there will enjoy this book because of what it is: a chance for a woman who once existed, who we only know because of a poem, to finally speak for herself.