I listen to a lot of audiobooks, read a lot of library books and e-books, still somehow never have enough room on my bookshelves.
But a translator’s yearning to identify with the text cannot be repressed. This is what urged me to take some scenes, some hints, some foreshadowings from the epic and make them into a novel—a translation into a different form—partial, marginal, but, in intent at least, faithful. More than anything else, my story is an act of gratitude to the poet, a love offering.
This is a book that is more about Le Guin's relationship with Vergil’s Aeneid than it is a work of fiction in and of itself. I have not read the Aeneid (I'm working forward from the Greeks, and am only up to Antigone) but I'm reasonably familiar with the plot and the discussion around it, especially in regards to Aeneas's character development and the ending. This book is probably at its strongest on the meta level of a character in a story who is on some level aware that they are in a story, and what that means in terms of identity and choice. I love the way Le Guin blended the different ideas of religion (Lavinia's, Aenaes', Virgil's) all together, and made them conflict and harmonise. I love how Le Guin can make even a meta reflection on a two-thousand-year-old poem about empire feel like a real world full of real people.
I am a little in love with Aeneas himself here, and even though the characterisation is often very spare, it comes through beautifully. Lavinia herself often feels a little distant, without an outside point of view on her as she has on Aeneas. She's a classic Le Guin interior-focused character who watches a lot and says little, and a lot of her feelings are told to us by her, rather than shown. She is haunted by Virgil and visions of empire and war to come, and knows how the story will end, but is still trying to make the best of it. I came to love her, too, in the end, and to wish that the book had been longer. The writing itself, of course, was gorgeous.
I've been told that people who are more familiar with the poem find the central section that covers the final six books somewhat repetitive. I would think that going in with no knowledge whatsoever would render the whole thing incomprehensible, but I can't say that for sure.