Book Review: The Love-Artist by Jane Alison

The-Love-Artist-201x300Last year I enrolled in a MOOC. What’s that?? A Massive Open Online Course, and there are thousands of them out there, taught by university professors, completely free, and just about any topic you can imagine. I chose a course on historical fiction, and one of the assigned readings was The Love Artist, featuring the Roman poet Ovid.

The subject intrigued me because Ovid was born in Sulmona, one of my favorite spots in Italy, and I wondered if his hometown played at all in the story. In that, I was disappointed.

I’m not much of a student of ancient Rome, so cannot judge the authenticity of Alison’s depiction of the setting. Her prose is lyrical and lovely, appropriate to the time in language, and evokes a mystical sense that works with the story, which re-imagines Ovid’s inspiration for his (now lost) tragic play Medea. Enchanted by Xenia, a mysterious woman he meets on the shores of the Black Sea, Ovid returns with her to Rome, where his writing career and personal life are bound up with Emperor Augustus and his family tumult.

Statue of Ovid in Sulmona, Italy, his birthplace. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Statue of Ovid in Sulmona, Italy, his birthplace. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The story itself is very slow-moving, and I’m not convinced that Alison took advantage of the natural drama in the story she tells. Not a book that would keep me up reading until two or three in the morning. Perhaps readers who thrive on stories of the Roman Empire would find it more engaging.

I’d be interested in the opinions of others who have read it, so please comment below!