Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Volcano Lover” as Want to Read:
The Volcano Lover
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Volcano Lover

3.51 of 5 stars 3.51  ·  rating details  ·  1,237 ratings  ·  125 reviews
"The Volcano Lover is a great novel. It repeatedly scales heights of complex thought, passion and expression that few American writers ever approach, while reimagining a majestic love story in dazzling style." -- "The Philadelphia Inquirer


Set in 18th century Naples, based on the lives of Sir William Hamilton, his celebrated wife Emma, and Lord Nelson, and peopled with many
...more
Hardcover, 419 pages
Published August 1st 1992 by Farrar Straus Giroux (first published January 1st 1992)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Volcano Lover, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Volcano Lover

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,976)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
David
The book is so close to great. . . I was reading Sontag's Paris Review interview afterward, which is fascinating, obviously--at 13, she was apparently reading the journals of Gide--and I think it opened me up to the flaw in the book, which is structural. She had in mind this balletic structure modeled on the four temperaments--melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, although the last two are more like epilogues. First, Sontag gives us an oddly sad story about this quiet aristocrat living in ...more
Wordsmith
I love this book, having first read it back in '92-'93. It's still sitting right there on my shelf, despite having been pulled off several times for a re-read. Complex? Uhmmm, not really. Big words? No bigger, certainly, than McCarthy. Ha! Not even close. No, just top of the line, grade A, "historical romance." If that. I'd call it much more myself. Susan Sontag is a writers writer. 5 Star caliber all the way.
matt


I love Sontag the writer, provocateur, thinker, etc...and I love her essays and criticism. And her life. I always think twice about what she says and recommends and the attitudes she takes.

But this book didn't really live up to my expectations. I love some of it- the aphoristic writing and the quiet delineations of places and objects, especially. Her characterization is pretty strong and sometimes the evocative feel of time and place is really there.

Unfortunately the writing is a little too sel
...more
Susan
Deep research on scandals and art works of aristocratic late 18th-century Naples around the time of the French Revolution made into good story/character study of English aesthete and collector William Hamilton, his two wives, and Admiral Nelson. Hamilton profited from the excavations at Pompeii, had an intimate view of the scatalogical excesses and executions perpetrated by the Neapolitan court, and participated in a few menages a trois. His second wife Emma progresses as a Barry Lyndon-type rak ...more
Blueskies18
I couldn't even finish this book. Not my cup of tea. If I don't like the style and what the author has to say, I don't waste my time on it.
Julia
Perhaps I should start with a comment by Evelyn Toynton in COMMENTARY, Nov. 1992, right after the book was published. This is just a short section of a well written critique:

"But in the end, apart from some vivid images of street scenes in Naples, of a rampaging mob, of Sir William’s pathetic pet monkey, and of Emma dancing, the strongest impression one takes away from this book is of the suffocatingly humorless presence of Susan Son-tag.

She has become by now a virtual icon of Mind, the ultimate
...more
Matt
This rating will no doubt seem harsh, compared to the rating I just gave another book, but I think at least in some ways, it's merited.

I really like Sontag's essays, and think she's quite a wonderful writer and thinker, and a lot of that is on display here. I was curious to see what she'd make out of a novel, and she doesn't disappoint in that regard-- this really is a strange book, one that is as interested in argument and philosophy and culture as much as it is in more traditional novelistic c
...more
Tom Lee
Who knew a volcano could give birth to such a wealth of conflicting symbolism? In Sontag’s gripping piece of historical fiction, it appears as a metaphor for destruction and preservation, the artistic and the scientific, the penis and the vagina – and a whole lot more.

I personally love historical fiction and The Volcano Lover is an enjoyable and thought-provoking example of the genre. It takes as its basis a very famous, real-life love affair from the Napoleonic Wars, but avoids directly naming
...more
Marta!
Feb 28, 2014 Marta! rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Someone who likes books without dialogues
Recommended to Marta! by: My aunt, Maritere.
"El amor es siempre un sacrificio, dijo Catherine, que sabía de qué hablaba. Pero quien ama, añadió, consigue mejor parte que quien se deja querer".

En un artículo que el diario El País publicó en 1995, Rocío García narraba cómo Susan Sontag, autora de la novela, confesaba que "éste era su mejor libro" y que "se sentía profundamente orgullosa" de él. Confesión que hizo en la presentación que tuvo lugar en el Círculo de Bellas Artes de Madrid aquél año. Juan Goytisolo, uno de los amigos que le aco
...more
Suzanne Stroh
Annie Liebovitz has called this Susan Sontag's best book, and she should know, and I agree. It's a gorgeous, lyrical novel of ideas disguised as an 18th century romance about a love triangle between the British ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples, the concubine he marries and the Naval hero she worships. This book has it all: pretty girls, virile noblemen, erupting volcanoes, priceless paintings, science and seduction, sex and war crimes, houses and gardens, gallows and guillotines.

As with every
...more
Fiona
The dramatic heart of this book lies in Nelson’s distinctly unheroic behaviour during the Neapolitan Republican uprising in 1799, when he oversaw the execution of hundreds of ‘rebels’, and hanged the much-loved Admiral Caracciolo and threw his body into the harbour.
The story starts, though, as Sir William Hamilton goes back to Naples from London to carry on his work as British Ambassador. His wife - the reserved, refined Catherine - plays the piano in the Neapolitan palazzo while Hamilton is ou
...more
Patty
This was a hard book to get into. The challenge was gettin through the superficial lives of it's 3 main characters. It is discribed as an historical novel, but I thought the author spent way too much time with their internal struggles which were very common and disgustingly predictable. I also question whether this was a true romance novel.

When the "action" picked up which is to say when somthing actually happens the possibility for a good situaltion to learn something about this period in Histo
...more
Nicholas
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tony Hightower
I wasn't able to finish this. It wasn't that she's bad at this -- her prose flows nicely, and the flourishes and characters move in three dimensions -- but man, is she in love with her own ability to string phrases and words together.

The remembrance-as-recollection plot device only works if you're crystal clear about how many layers deep into the onion of memory you've currently burrowed. That was a problem in this book, and while it might be forgivable for those who read scholarly texts and hav
...more
Antonmyles
This is an exhilarating read more for its encyclopedic if kaleidoscopically shifting views of a passionately intelligent and acquisitive Cavaliere. It matters little that the novel is based on the real-life triangle of Sir William Hamilton, his wife Emma, and Lord Nelson. What counts is the formal yet lyrical beauty of the writing, the ever-changing impressions of a man in love with not just a woman but the world of objects and art. Almost mystical in the revelry of its cataloguing of things and ...more
JSA Lowe
I know I was supposed to like this, but I wish Sontag had stayed the hell away from narrative "realistic" fiction. This bored the pants onto me and I missed the weirdness of Death Kit and her other awesome freakazoid neglected work. Now I'm thinking of that stupid line from Bull Durham and I'm even more upset, so stopping writing now.
Catherine
Well I give up. I'm on page 172 and I can feel the lava hardening around my ankles as I read this book. Sontag's style is so thick she makes Iris Murdoch feel like a waltz in the park.

I was so looking forward to learning more about this unusual relationship between Hamilton, his wife and Nelson but it is almost like she's avoiding the subject (which is perhaps how Hamilton handled it).

Anyways with thousands of other books waiting on my shelves I can't get bogged down in something that so polite
...more
Isabella Diocson
I'm usually a fast reader given my own set of circumstances. This, however, is a different story considering that this was an exhausting read which took me almost 2 months to finish. Nevertheless this book was interesting, painting a vivid and poignant picture of the life of The Cavaliere as an antiquarian, diplomat, husband, and a lover of the volcano. I loved how Susan Sontag writes with depth, sucking the reader in with deep thoughts beyond what can only be grasped as mere observations. Altho ...more
Gordon
Wow. I didn't know what I had picked up when I started to read as I didn't refer to any reviews beforehand. I thought I was reading about a quant British Ambassador to the court of the King & Queen of Naples and Sicily who was an ardent collector and lover/student of volcanoes. Little did I know I was going to travel through a time of great upheaval and revolution and witness the rise and fall of Lord Nelson - from his pre-Egypt exploits to his involvement in thwarting Napoleanic France's de ...more
Sandy
Difficult to read. Lots of words I didn't know. I wasn't familiar with the historial figures she was writing about. After I went to Wiki and read up on the main characters, the book made more sense. Author is very wordy. Still, gave good insights on the culture of the time and in-depth character analyses.
Lisa Fluet

I read this book while in Naples (it's set in Naples, late-18th-early 19th century). I think it's probably Susan Sontag's best novel. But then I don't really like her novels normally...[random trivia]--Susan Sontag's novels come up in the movie "Bull Durham" (Kevin Costner--or "Crash"--doesn't like them, either...)
Linda
Unless one sits with a dictionary next to you, it is difficult to follow. However my vocabulary increased substantially as this writer knows how to use big words in a grand eloquent style of literary genius. However, the story line was a bit boring and I had to push to finish it.
Elke de Echte
Met dezelfde antropologische drijfveren als in haar essays, onderzoekt Susan Sontag het leven van een verzamelaar in de tijd van de Franse revolutie. Deze Britse ambassadeur is gestationeerd in Napels. Zijn fascinatie voor de vulkaan de Vesuvius geldt als metafoor voor de broeierige politieke situatie in Europa; het verzamelen van kunstvoorwerpen voor het krampachtig vasthouden aan monarchistische idealen. Ook al voelen de parallellen soms wat bij het haar getrokken – zeker als er zowaar naar he ...more
Jennifer
Abandoned due to time constraints. I was only able to finish the first third before my book club meeting. The discussion made me wish I had finished it, but the book remains buried under several others at my bedside. I don't see it displacing other choices for a long time.

The first third follows an art collector hundreds of years ago who is also fascinated by volcanoes. Some interesting insights on buying and selling art and the personal satisfaction of collecting one piece at a time versus buyi
...more
Maire
This is a very odd book. It starts off very slowly, (so much so that I stopped reading it for a while at the 150 page mark) with a focus on the least interesting historical character (Sir William Hamilton). Once the two main characters enter the action (Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton), everything really picks up speed. It was fascinating to read so much about a bit of history that I knew next to nothing about--Naples immediately before and during the French Revolution. Most interesting of all tho ...more
Mariele
This is easily the best book I've read all year (2012). I enjoy books that take me to places and times that I previously knew nothing about, that teach me something in a very entertaining way. I found out about Lord Nelson and Emma Hamilton, two people I had heard of before, but knew nothing about. Neither did I have any idea about the existence of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies, or the fate of the numerous children of Empress Maria Theresa. The book gave me insight into the high society in the ...more
Elizabeth Quinn
Sontag's novel focuses on one of the most famous love triangles in history: British diplomat Sir William Hamilton, his wife Emma, and the most famous British naval officer of all-time, Horatio Nelson. The setting is Naples at the end of the 18th century, the volcano is Vesuvius and the volcano lover is Hamilton. He's a collector of art and antiquities who agrees to welcome his nephew's cast-off paramour, Emma, into his palatial home in part because she was once the muse of painter George Romney. ...more
Kate
The Volcano Lover is a very odd book and I can't decide whether I enjoyed it or not. I think the story is so fascinating that the book is fascinating despite the style rather than because of it.

The author does not use the first names of any of the major protagonists referring to them as The Cavaliere, The Wife and The Hero. It's really only because of the blurb on the back that one understands that these correspond to Sir William Hamilton, Emma Hamilton and Horatio (Admiral) Nelson.

Sontag mixes
...more
Sara
While reading, i intended on giving it 4 starts but after turning the last page all I wanted to do was go back to the beginning and start all over. That feeling doesn't happen often for me and so I think it merits to enter the 5-star realm. Reading the Volcano Lover makes you travel way back, into the lives, minds and emotions of its main characters. A journey not only in time but space and age. I don't know how accurate it was to the "historical truth" portrayed and frankly I don't really care: ...more
El
The dramatic love triangle between Sir William Hamilton, his wife Emma, and her lover, Lord Nelson, of the late 18th-century Naples is the basis of Sontag's historical "romance". The Cavaliere is an obsessive collector and fascinated with Mount Vesuvius which becomes symbolic of each characters' emotions at one point or another. When his beloved Catherine dies he falls in love with his nephew's lover, Emma, who ultimately finds true love not in the Cavaliere, but in "the hero", Lord Nelson. The ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Danube: A Sentimental Journey from the Source to the Black Sea
  • A Sport of Nature
  • Mar Morto
  • Undrawn
  • The Glassblower's Daughter
  • Red Grass River: A Legend
  • La herencia de Eszter
  • The Royal Physician's Visit
  • Love Letters from Cell 92
  • Malinche
  • Tim
  • As Seen on TV: Provocations
  • Without Blood
  • From Death to Morning
  • Justine (The Alexandria Quartet, #1)
  • Gargoyles
  • Meets Girl
  • Green River Rising
7907
Jewish American literary theorist, novelist, filmmaker, and feminist activist.
More about Susan Sontag...
On Photography Against Interpretation and Other Essays Regarding the Pain of Others Illness as Metaphor & AIDS and Its Metaphors Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963

Share This Book

“Every culture has its southerners -- people who work as little as they can, preferring to dance, drink, sing brawl, kill their unfaithful spouses; who have livelier gestures, more lustrous eyes, more colorful garments, more fancifully decorated vehicles, a wonderful sense of rhythm, and charm, charm, charm; unambitious, no, lazy, ignorant, superstitious, uninhibited people, never on time, conspicuously poorer (how could it be otherwise, say the northerners); who for all their poverty and squalor lead enviable lives -- envied, that is, by work-driven, sensually inhibted, less corruptly governed northerners. We are superior to them, say the northerners, clearly superior. We do not shirk our duties or tell lies as a matter of course, we work hard, we are punctual, we keep reliable accounts. But they have more fun than we do ... They caution[ed] themselves as people do who know they are part of a superior culture: we mustn't let ourselves go, mustn't descend to the level of the ... jungle, street, bush, bog, hills, outback (take your pick). For if you start dancing on tables, fanning yourself, feeling sleepy when you pick up a book, developing a sense of rhythm, making love whenever you feel like it -- then you know. The south has got you.” 24 likes
“Desire wills its perpetuation ad infinitum.” 8 likes
More quotes…