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An Imaginary Life

3.88  ·  Rating Details ·  1,359 Ratings  ·  134 Reviews
In the first century AD, Publius Ovidius Naso, the most urbane and irreverent poet of imperial Rome, was banished to a remote village on the edge of the Black Sea. From these sparse facts, one of our most distinguished novelists has fashioned an audacious and supremely moving work of fiction.

Marooned on the edge of the known world, exiled from his native tongue, Ovid depen
Paperback, 156 pages
Published February 5th 1999 by Vintage (first published 1978)
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Apr 06, 2016 Jasmine rated it really liked it
“Have you heard my name? Ovid? Am I still known? Has some line of my writing escaped the banning of my books from all the libraries and their public burning, my expulsion from the Latin tongue? Has some secret admirer kept one of my poems and so preserved it, or committed it to memory? Do my lines still pass secretly somewhere from mouth to mouth? Has some phrase of mine slipped through as a quotation, unnoticed by the authorities, in another man’s poem? Or in a letter? Or in a saying that has b ...more
Lyn Elliott
Malouf's language is that of a poet, fitting for a book whose narrator is exiled Roman poet and writer, Ovid.

The obvious themes are exile and the isolation that comes from effectively losing your own language, surrounded by people whose language and culture are vastly different from your own. He finds their customs and speech barbarous.

'I am in exile here.
I have …been cast out into what is yet another order of beings, those who have not yet climbed up through a hole in their head and become fu
Mollie Lipka
Aug 07, 2012 Mollie Lipka rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
“Our further selves are contained within us, as the leaves and blossoms are in the tree.”

Journeys in the conventional sense take us from one physical point to the next. They are often very sensory experiences. We may sail day and night upon rough waters and taste the splayed salt on our lips. We may walk for many miles under an unforgiving sun and feel the dryness of our throats. We come in contact with others along the way who affirm, change, mold, teach, question. Through language we interact,
K.D. Absolutely
Feb 21, 2011 K.D. Absolutely rated it it was ok
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books
Shelves: 501, australian
For me, it is sad that sometimes the sequence in our reading affects our appreciation of some books. For example, this beautiful book, An Imaginary Life , first published in 1978, has a wonderful poetic prose and it is about the last Roman poet, Ovid. However, my reading of this was “eclipsed” by Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden that both use straight, brutal storytelling that keeps you leafing from one page to the next. I mean, I had a hard time appreciating w ...more
Roger Brunyate
Jun 10, 2016 Roger Brunyate rated it it was amazing
Tristia and Metamorphosis

In 8 CE, the Latin poet Ovid was banished to Tomis on the Black Sea (the present-day Constanta in Romania) where he lived out the remainder of his life—a life that David Malouf has reinterpreted in his extraordinary novel. I have a strong recollection from school of the pervasive melancholy of the poems he wrote there, his Tristia (sorrows), and Malouf has perfectly captured the mood of a bleak existence among a barbarian people. But that is only how the book starts; gra
Mar 08, 2012 Jonathan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: university
This work of David Malouf's was incredibly lyrical and well written. I found myself captivated at the start and believed I may be able to grant this four stars. However the further I read into the text the more my love of the book eroded.

This is the fictionalised story of the Roman poet Ovid in exile among supposed barbarians. It chronicles, from his perspective, how he meets a wild boy and befriends him. It is a highly poetic and fantastical story with many philosophical ideas present.

Yet on t
Aug 16, 2014 AC rated it did not like it
Started and dropped it. I didn't like it at all. He's writing about Ovid, but his voice sounds as if he's never read a line of Latin. Sounds like a fake....
I’ve been going through books read years ago with the intention of keeping a few and taking the rest to our local used book store. So far, it’s been a losing battle—I keep finding ones I want to read again like this book where the author places the poet Ovid in a hostile land after he is exiled from Rome by the emperor Augustus and finds a feral child living there among the deer.
JR Gutierrez
What else is death than the refusal to any longer grow and suffer change?

This fiction is more like the journey of Publius Ovidius Naso to he's death. It may sound morbid but it is in fact an utterly fascinating view of life.

I remember reading this and thinking what an attractive mind David Malouf has. The philosophy and beliefs he wrote, though some i may not agree too or even try to entertain, makes you think. This is one of the most original and unique books i have ever read, or if there ar
Catherine McNamara
May 27, 2012 Catherine McNamara rated it it was amazing
A lyrical metaphorical work about the emptying of the self and the quest for the completion of a life. The feted frivolous Roman poet Ovid displeases his Emperor Augustus and is revealed to us in exil, a man without language or kin. Without words or society he gradually finds a simpler more visceral meaning to life through the tongue of his captors. He chooses to tame a Child produced by the cruel landscape, and is so distrusted by the superstitious villagers who believe that this young boy ...more
Jack Becker
I give it 5 stars for two reasons: First, the ideas are interesting and provoke a lot of thoughts that I don't believe I'm old enough to fully understand, but they are nevertheless captivating. And second, the writing is gorgeous. I want to read every line aloud, like a good poem. If you're looking for a historical fictions about Ancient Rome, read "I, Claudius" by Robert Graves I, Claudius, but you should still read "An Imaginary Life" just for the sheer joy of it.
Nov 19, 2014 Jim rated it really liked it
This is not an historical novel. Not in the way Wolf Hall is an historical novel. It is, of course, set in history and even has as its protagonist a man who actually existed, the Roman poet Ovid, but it deals with a period—his exile at the end of his life—of which little is known. But there are a few verifiable facts. In 8 CE, Ovid was banished to Tomis on the Black Sea, by the exclusive intervention of the Emperor Augustus, and this is where he died some eight years later. Whilst there, at firs ...more
Sadeel Nasarat
Apr 14, 2015 Sadeel Nasarat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
حسناً لقد قيمتها بنجمتين فقط عند أول قراءة
أكان على الكهرباء أن تنقطع ويوخزني وجع القراءة بما يكفي لأُحضر كشافاً كهربائياً , لأُعيد قراءة كتاب لم أحببه كثيراً
! لأكتشف أنني ظلمته
لقد أثبت هذا لي أن للكتب أرواح كما أرواحنا والا ما الذي يجعل كتاباً سيئاً في قراءة أكثر جودة في قراءة ثانية لم تتجاوز الفترة بينهما الشهر
ان للكتب قابلية للعطاء ايضاً , ويحدد هذا العطاء مزاجية الورق او القارىء
هذا يفسر الأعداد الهائلة لأشخاص كرهوا روايات عالمية ولم يستسيغوا بعض الأشعار الجميلة
الكتب لا تكشف انفسها الا ف
Oct 01, 2014 Will rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ancient-world
An Imaginary Life is an apt title. Malouf's prose has a life flowing through it. Cold winters, autumnal wilds, burial rituals, and shaman magic combine to create an eerie and uncomfortable atmosphere that surrounds Ovid's exile in Tomis. Rough characters rub on him, and a life away from the Epicureanism of Rome rekindles him. Spirits that Ovid doesn't believe in drive the actions of the superstitious people and the Child, a confusing and distant (human?) being who ends up teaching Ovid more than ...more
Saurabh Sharma
Dec 22, 2013 Saurabh Sharma rated it liked it
Recommended to Saurabh by: Friend
An imaginary Life is a beautifully written, fictional description of poet Publius Ovidius Naso's life. Ovid was sent into an exile to a place called Tomis, where he was alone and completely out of place among the locals who had their own rituals and their own language which were completely alien to the poet. Though there's little in terms of historical facts about Ovid's life in exile but the author David Malouf creates an imaginary existence and life for Ovid and takes the readers on a journey ...more
Leo Boudib
Jul 16, 2015 Leo Boudib rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-reading
Like a play in five parts, this short story has incredible form and beauty in its craftsmanship. The transformation of the poet narrator in his pursuit of meaning in life and connection with nature is powerful, drawing upon the romantic tradition. Exiled from his life in Rome where he seeks beauty in the aesthetic and superficial challenges to the ruling powers, he is challenged to find a place in a hostile environment, and eventually find refuge and meaning in the power of people to overcome ...more
Jun 01, 2012 Lawzz rated it really liked it
The sentences flow across the page as though by drifting on and on they have the ability to take you further into that place in time. You are able to enter Malouf's imagination and too become part of the earth; to rumble like the thunder and move through the river like the very water in it.

It is so rich in its ideas about the superstitious, where the 'other' is beastly and not to be trusted. A wonderful read even if you were required to re-read a sentence in order to grasp a little more underst
Sohini Banerjee
Jan 06, 2011 Sohini Banerjee rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone- who has the patience to read through the 1st few pages
Shelves: classy-reading
The book was a part of my Masters' degree. Going down memorys' lane I recollect that we were only 2 students who wanted to study it. As such, we did not have an option but to discuss it with each other while reading, and what a joyous time it was. I believe I can read this book as many times as I want to. It's an amazing blend of the tales of the Roman Ovid with the idea of dislocation explicitly portrayed in every page. Also as a reader I felt a tremendous resemblance to Kiplings' The Jungle ...more
May 31, 2012 Paul rated it liked it
Shelves: own
If you like words and can appreciate a particular turn of phrase, then you may find this to be a very enjoyable book. I certainly gained satisfaction from reading it, but was even more satisfied with myself once I finished it. By writing as the poet, Ovid, Malouf has woven a story out of such flowery phrases that each moment seemed to take a lifetime to read. Slow reading, but interesting in its own way.
It is always a joy to read Malouf's work, but there's a special frisson about reading very early novels. This one from 1978 is exquisite.
To see my review please visit
David Sarkies
Jun 28, 2015 David Sarkies rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Nobody really
Recommended to David by: My English Lecturer
Shelves: modernist
Ovid's Exile
31 March 2012

The first thing I did when I came to comment on this book was to go to my uni notes to see if I could get any inspiration from them only to discover that I didn't take any. This is not surprising because it was the last book that we read in English I and by this time I had pretty much become sick of writing down the rubbish that was coming out of the lecturer's mouth (or was too busy studying other books we had read to pay any attention to this one).

I must admit that E
Michalle Gould
I don't think I can rate this book, it is more of an experience than a conventionally plotted or written novel; at times, I found it hard to follow exactly what was going on, but the ending was very satisfying in terms of being consistent with the spirit of the book (I have otherwise sometimes found Malouf's books had trouble quite living up to their early promise) and I think I will probably re-read it again in a year or two in order to keep trying to understand it more fully. I also really ...more
Mar 16, 2010 Tom rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
A fictional account of the later life of the Roman poet Ovid. History records that he was exiled from Roman territory for transgressions unknown. This book describes the poet's time in exile in which he encounters a feral child who hearkens back to dreams that he had as a child himself. He befriends the Child (the book capitalizes it throughout), initially to bring him into humanity. This is fraught with difficulty and eventually, the roles are reversed and the aged poet is introduced to the ...more
Vit Babenco
Aug 19, 2014 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing
Civilization and wild nature - are they in collision? May they be reconciled? Wise old poet Ovid and a wild child of nature in the end understand each other better than all the Roman nobles could understand the poet.
“I have stopped finding fault with creation and have learned to accept it. We have some power in us that knows its own ends. It is that which drives us on to what we must finally become… This is the true meaning of transformation. This is the real metamorphosis.”
And the final metamor
Robert Wechsler
Apr 11, 2013 Robert Wechsler rated it it was amazing
Shelves: australian-lit
I generally don̕t like lyrical prose, but Malouf is certainly a master of it, and so he managed to make it work for me. It̕s especially odd, because it doesn̕t necessarily fit the story: Ovid in exile finding a wild child like one he imagined in his own childhood. One doesn̕t associate Ovid with lyricism, but it̕s the end of his life, and he̕s looking back and ahead, coming to terms. It̕s a truly beautiful novella, just the right length. Everything̕s right about it.
Kari Burk
Sep 07, 2010 Kari Burk rated it really liked it
My brother lent me this book. He said , as he held it out to me "I started this but...I dunno...couldn't really get into it " But me , I tucked right in and really enjoyed this book. I liked the range , and lack there of , of the personalities in this book and both the bleakness and the richness of the environment and characters. I was surprised to find out that it was written in like 1978 or something?
Enjoyed it for what it was, but disappointed that it was not so much a straight story about Ovid-in-exile [although that WAS there as a narrative foundation] as much as a meditation on the balance between civilization and nature, with psychological and philosophical underpinnings. Writing was luminous, with gorgeous descriptions. Worthwhile to read once but I don't feel it warrants rereading.
Jan 15, 2012 Sylvia rated it it was amazing
Takes us inside the mind of Ovid who was to spend the last years of his life banished from Rome for supposedly outraging the public with his explicitly erotic literature and poems. ? Unable to communicate with the barbarians he finds himself among he befriends a child who has been brought up by wolves.............He is without speech yet we are privy to his thoughts. Subtle and thought provoking
Shel Sammut
May 26, 2012 Shel Sammut rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Stuart Barnes
Shelves: favourites
I'm awestruck but this novel. I'm not sure why I didn't give it 5 stars, possibly only because it so short, and I prefer a longer novel with a bit more detail, but for it's length, it leaves an impression. Beautiful prose that speaks to something within. I am already looking forward to reading it again, which I have to do since I'm doing my final exam essay on this book.
Dr. Carl Ludwig Dorsch
Sep 27, 2010 Dr. Carl Ludwig Dorsch rated it did not like it
Shelves: lives

I gave up reading this. Interested in Ovid as I might be, I couldn't shake the primary sense that the author was making up the text as he went, which, presumably, in some sense he was.

One of the reasons I read little fiction, and truth be told, not so many books.

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David Malouf is the author of ten novels and six volumes of poetry. His novel The Great World was awarded both the prestigious Commonwealth Prize and the Prix Femina Estranger. Remembering Babylon was short-listed for the Booker Prize. He has also received the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Award. He lives in Sydney, Australia.
More about David Malouf...

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“What else should our lives be but a continual series of beginnings, of painful settings out into the unknown, pushing off from the edges of consciousness into the mystery of what we have not yet become.” 26 likes
“I have stopped finding fault with creation and have learned to accept it. We have some power in us that knows its own ends. It is that which drives us on to what we must finally become… This is the true meaning of transformation. This is the real metamorphosis.” 16 likes
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