Waverings of Catullus

2008-07-16 00:00

IF it’s a page-turner you’re after, this is not for you. Having said that, I’m not sure who this book is for. Someone who enjoys spending time in the head of a poet whose life revolves around little else than an obsession with a married older lover, perhaps? Or someone who appreciates the literary challenge involved in a modern author’s attempt to imagine the personal life of real-life first-century BC Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus?

Whatever. I read the book with little emotional engagement and some impatience over Catullus’s protracted musings and his ineffectual attempts at action. (There’s a whiff of Hamlet about him, but with far less complexity and a good deal more limpness. And while the Danish prince faces a definitive end, Catullus’s waverings seem determined to persist beyond the final page.)

The first time I read a Helen Dunmore novel, I was in raptures, so perhaps expectations were a little high here. And to be fair, as novels go, it’s more than competently written, and seems historically erudite on the matter of ancient Roman lifestyles and politics. Ultimately, the book doesn’t fail so much as decline to leave a lasting impression. I’m not sure which is worse.

Sharon Dell

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