Picoroco's Reviews > Julian

Julian by Gore Vidal
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's review
Mar 29, 08

bookshelves: modern-american-fiction, history, historical-fiction
Read in April, 2008

** spoiler alert ** I didn't think that I was going to like this book. I am neither a great reader of history or of historical fiction. But Gore Vidal's rendering of the Roman Empire in the fourth century is a spirited, convincing defence of pre-Christian thought and of Julian Augustus in particular.

The tri-partite narrative structure aside, there are no obtrusive literary tricks to be found in the novel and the prose is unadorned but elegant (high Roman, Vidal might put it). The ascerbic commentaries from Priscus and Libanius (Julian's philosopher friends) are a delight and serve to lift Julian's narrative above the worthy. The novel is by turns funny (at times hilarious), angry and elegiac. Completed in 1964, I couldn't help wonder at times how much the novel's eponymous hero is modelled on Vidal's knowledge of John F. Kennedy (both relatively young leaders of empires, both killed for their attempt to enact radical change within their own societies).

For what it's worth, I found the closing sequence to be memorably moving. The old and blind Libanius meets John Chrysostomos, one of the early fathers of the Christian Church, at a state funeral of one of Libanius's former acquaintances. The two talk of the church and Hellenism and it becomes heartbreakingly clear that for Libanius the game is up, paganism with all its glorious attributes is dead. With their golden mouths, silken tongues and weasel words, the followers of the one great skygod have won the day - and are still tormenting the world.

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