Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Augustus - Allan Massie

I'd previously read Massie's take on Caligula, which was OK, but this is much better - a character, I feel, that Massie is naturally more comfortable with.  The novel presents as two separate tranches of autobiography, one covering Octavian's triumph over Antony and Cleopatra, the other a more sweeping account of everything else.  The free-form style of the second half compensates for the awkward structure and, being essentially about what comes after a forty-year benign dictatorship (a question more relevant today than when the book was written in 1985/6), is more about Tiberius than Augustus.  Certainly, I am keen to read Tiberius, the next in the sequence.  Another that caught my eye is Nero's Heirs.

Massie is a novelist in the classic tradition.  In Augustus and Caligula he ventures into territory comprehensively staked out by Robert Graves a generation earlier.  But, without in any way shaking the reader's faith in the historicity of his narrative, Massie manages to bring a fresh and distinct take to a relatively familiar story.

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