Historical Fiction Buddy Reads discussion

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Buddy Read: Imperium by Robert Harris (March '10)

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Alex Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome is the first in a historical fiction trilogy by Robert Harris about Cicero, the great Roman orator. The second book just came out, and we'll probably talk about that eventually too. A few of us happen to be interested at the same time, so we're reading it together. We'd love if you came along too, whoever you are.


message 2: by Alex (last edited Feb 26, 2010 07:29AM) (new)

Alex ...introductions are awkward. Hi Tina. I like it too, so far. This is the first book I've read by Harris, and his writing style is a touch clunky at times; were you totally thrown by his use of the word "highfalutin'"? It took me like three pages to get over that. That word doesn't belong in a book set in ancient Rome.

Harris strikes me as one of those writers who you suspect is a little socially awkward, so when he writes about relationships, it's sortof unsubtle. As opposed to, say, my boy Kazuo Ishiguro, whose feel for human interaction is breathtakingly insightful.

But I don't want to sound down on the book; I actually like it a lot. Tons of fun to read, and I was instantly hooked by the plot. Harris has done something really clever here: if he'd published a three-volume biography of Cicero, no one would have read it. (Well, I wouldn't have.) So instead it's a trilogy of historical novels, which sounds way more fun. But it comes down to nearly the same thing, right? This is a very detailed, carefully researched work about Cicero.

I've heard that many of Cicero's speeches are word-for-word, what he actually said. That's pretty cool.

Were you (and you, random other person who might be reading this) already interested in Rome? I was; I read the Aeneid and Ovid's Metamorphoses last year, as well as some non-fiction about the time, so this ties in to my interests.

And finally, off-topic: three years in Taiwan, wow. What brought you there? Judging from your interests, I'll go out on a limb and guess missionary work. Are you fluent in Chinese? I love travel, so I'm not just making polite conversation here - I'd like to hear about it. I've never been to Asia. My wife and I are hoping to tackle it next year (the past two years have brought us to Africa and South America); so far Vietnam is the leader for our first exposure, which, given our tendencies, almost guarantees that we'll end up somewhere else entirely.


Alistair Forrest | 6 comments Alex wrote: "This is the first book I've read by Harris, and his writing style is a touch clunky at times..."

Hi Alex
I have read Harris before but have yet to find time for Lustrum, pretty high up my TBR list. I'm intrigued at your references to language. My second novel has just been turned down by an agent for containing too much modern language, and my first ('Libertas', published 2009) had mild criticism for being too adjectivorial, if that's the word. My head's spinning now. So the third novel (set in Sennacherib's Assyria) might turn out to be "clunky"!
Enjoying your posts
Alistair
www.alistairforrest.com


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (SusannaG) | 35 comments I'm waiting for a copy of the second one (due here sometime soonish). I've been interested in ancient Rome since the 1970s.


Carolyn Chriss (cchriss) | 37 comments I'm so pleased that my initial "anyone heard of" inquiry resulted in this Buddy Read. I'll pick up a copy asap so I can jump into the conversation. I don't know much about Cicero or ancient Rome, just like to read well-researched novels that handle the history with authority, have a good plot and compelling characters. Not a lot to look for...? This seemed to fit that description and I'm glad to have that impression confirmed and to have company while reading. I'm not afraid of big books in either scope or number of pages (It's so annoying when the Book Club member's first question about a book is "How many pages are there?") so ... let's go!


Alex ...just like to read well-researched novels that handle the history with authority, have a good plot and compelling characters.

Carolyn, sounds like I could take some book suggestions from you. I definitely owe you one for bringing Imperium to my attention.


Alistair Forrest | 6 comments Carolyn, try this amazon listmania list (best researched hist fiction) which includes Imperium: http://www.amazon.com/Best-researched...
I would also recommend David Ball, Sword and the Scimitar, not about Rome but superb on the siege of Malta.


Carolyn Chriss (cchriss) | 37 comments Alistair wrote: "Carolyn, try this amazon listmania list (best researched hist fiction) which includes Imperium: http://www.amazon.com/Best-researched... ..."

Thanks for this. Next stop - book swap! Love this site.


Carolyn Chriss (cchriss) | 37 comments Alex wrote: "...just like to read well-researched novels that handle the history with authority, have a good plot and compelling characters.

Carolyn, sounds like I could take some book suggestions from you. I..."


I'm sure we'll be exchanging recommendations and such back and forth. I just recently joined the site and it's already my favorite place to spend computer time. I'm an eclectic and voracious reader. Fortunately, I also read quickly without losing track of content.

I found your insights about Harris's personal character traits influencing his writing really intriguing. I often wonder about the writers personal relationship to their writing but mostly I'm aware of the writer just wanting to get to the end and wrap things up already. And such. When the character interactions are awkward I tend to credit it to the character's personalities. I'll be looking out for this other possibility now when get to it.

TTFN


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (SusannaG) | 35 comments There are a number of historical fiction lists on Listopia - my favorite is probably "Most Inaccurate Historical Fiction"!


Alex Now halfway done with Imperium, and I like it more and more as it goes. Really a gripping plot - and it's so well-researched that you can be confident that at least the major events recounted are true.

The story's told in first-person through the mouth of Tiro, Cicero's scribe. I didn't realize this, but it turns out that Tiro's a real guy who actually wrote a biography of Cicero, since lost. Recreating it is a clever strategy by Harris.

It allows him, among other things, to slyly inform you when the passage you've just read is the actual transcript of Cicero's speech, which happens often: he just has Tiro say something like, "And I am certain that the above speech is exactly as he told it, because I wrote it down myself and the record still survives."

Totally digging this book.


Tina Confession: I stayed up waaaay past my bedtime the other night to finish it. I really enjoyed reading it from Tiro's perspective. Using him made it seem as if it were more of an accurate account than if it were from Cicero's biased perspective.

I think I read a review somewhere that the relationships were flat. I wonder if that is because it was told from Tiro's perspective instead of first person narrative? I agreed that relationships were a little one-dimensional, but it didn't get in the way with my being swept up in the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book--right down to the details of Cicero getting sick before delivering a speech. To be honest, I only had a working knowledge of Roman history before reading, but did have an interest to read more. This has sparked my interest and can't wait for the second book in the series to come available on Kindle.


Tina Alex wrote: "...introductions are awkward. Hi Tina. I like it too, so far. This is the first book I've read by Harris, and his writing style is a touch clunky at times; were you totally thrown by his use of ..."

Hey Alex, I checked out Kazuo Ishiguro, his books look interesting. Do you recommend one in particular to start with?

Taiwan: I came here because of a job. My husband and I were living in England at the time, and I just finished up a masters degree in guidance and counseling. We decided we didn't want to go back to the States yet, so I went to an international school fair and found a place that my husband's job would transfer him to and I could pursue counseling. We spent two years commuting between the two different cities where we worked, then I quit the school, and got a job in his city working as a child & adolescent counselor at an expat community center.

We love living internationally--this summer will be nine years overseas (We lived in England for six). Living in Asia is ok--we love many many things about it (the food especially), but are looking at moving back to somewhere in Europe. In talking to people, I find that most are either in the European or the Asian camp--that is that they LOVE one or the other, but generally not both. I think we're European people.


Tina Alistair wrote: "Carolyn, try this amazon listmania list (best researched hist fiction) which includes Imperium: http://www.amazon.com/Best-researched... ..."

Thanks for the book list Alistair!


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (SusannaG) | 35 comments Am currently reading the second volume, also narrated by Tiro. Good so far.


Tina I had finished readingThe Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George awhile back. . . it's interesting to see a different perspective on Ceasar. Like the prequel to his great days ;-)

I'll be curious to see what Colleen McCullough's take is on him in The First Man in Rome (which I'll get to after I finish Marie Antoinette and The Children of Henry VII.)


Alistair Forrest | 6 comments Tina
Colleen McC is thorough and requires concentration. I found her brilliant for research for my first novel Libertas. However I needed to have a reason for Caesar's fury and downright nastiness before, during and after his last battle, Munda, Spain, 45BCE (where I live actually). So I gave him an attack of ear mites and a nasty rash, bated him with Gnaeus Pompey's insults, and he duly let rip.

BTW I've recently read Colleen's Antony and Cleopatra - superb, especially on Antony's gradual disintegration. Enjoy Colleen's excellent tome(s).

Alistair Forrest


Alex Tina, I checked with my wife because she's read more Ishiguro than I have, and she recommends The Remains of the Day. You might remember the movie starring Anthony Hopkins from many years ago.

How cool that you and your husband are getting to live in so many different places! These are the things that help you build an interesting life. Interesting theory about Europe vs. Asia. We'll keep that in mind whenever we make it to Asia, and try to figure out which we are. :)

You whupped my butt on this; I'm still only at 75%. I'll probably pick up the second book as soon as it comes available on Kindle, too; we'll have to revisit this when it does. Hopefully it won't be too late to discuss with Susanna.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (SusannaG) | 35 comments Well, Caesar himself doesn't get much more than born in The First Man in Rome - he is a main character by Fortune's Favorites, however.

I am enjoying the second volume of this Robert Harris series (the relevant period in McCullough's novels, from a very different perspective, is in Caesar's Women).


Alex Finished Imperium last night! Definitely a lot of fun to read.

I marked a passage to show that Harris's writing can be pretty great. Describing Cicero's thought process:

"I pictured his quick thoughts running ahead in the way that water runs along the cracks in a tiled floor - first onward, and then spreading to either side, blocked in one spot, advancing in another, widening and branching out."

Loved that image.

I'm a little concerned about the ending - and I'm going to try to get through this without spoilers. The intrigue behind that last part, as far as I know, isn't historically backed up. I know a little about Catiline, so I recognize the value in introducing him as a major character here, but the plotting and scheming, to my knowledge, came later.

Sorry if that was too hopelessly vague to render an opinion on. The second quarter of the book concerns the trial of Verres, and that's perfectly accurate, which is great; I'd be bummed if Harris started getting more...imaginative toward the end.


message 21: by Tina (last edited Mar 02, 2010 10:52PM) (new)

Tina Alex--the quote you wrote is just like the traffic here in Taiwan ;-)Craziest driving I've ever seen!

Back to the book--I didn't know that the intrigue you mentioned isn't backed up by history--I'm a little bummed that Harris was getting more creative than rooted in history too. But then again, I didn't know any better before you told me. Thanks. Are you bummed enough not to read the second in the series?

PS: thanks for the book recommendation--I actually picked up Never Let Me Go because it was an option for a different book club--hope it's good too!


Tina Alistair wrote: "Tina
Colleen McC is thorough and requires concentration. I found her brilliant for research for my first novel Libertas. However I needed to have a reason for Caesar's fury and downright nastiness ..."


I think a case of the ear mites might make me a bit cranky too!


Tina Susanna wrote: "Well, Caesar himself doesn't get much more than born in The First Man in Rome - he is a main character by Fortune's Favorites, however.

I am enjoying the second volume of this Robert Harris series..."


Can't wait to read it too! Wish it would hurry up and get released on kindle!


Alex For what it's worth, the intrigue isn't entirely made up; these things will happen, more or less. They just don't happen in this way, and certainly not at this time.

And no, it doesn't bum me out enough to keep me off the rest of the series. I'll buy the second one the moment it's available for Kindle. I'll just be sure to continue obsessively researching everything that happens, so I know what's real and what's...embellished.

Ah, third-world traffic. I love it. It's like an amusement park ride, except without any guarantee of safety.

Hope you like Never Let Me Go. It doesn't work for everyone - Ishiguro's one of those authors who inspires strong feelings either way - so I'll feel terrible if you don't.


Carolyn Chriss (cchriss) | 37 comments So I finally got my copy from the library and have to read very fast to catch up with everybody. Thanks for no spoilers. I'm just going to clear my calendar and dive in.


Tina Alex wrote: "For what it's worth, the intrigue isn't entirely made up; these things will happen, more or less. They just don't happen in this way, and certainly not at this time.

And no, it doesn't bum me out..."


I did like Never Let Me Go--it probably doesn't make my top 10 books of all times, but it was a good read. You're definitely right, Ishiguro is a master at interpersonal relationships. At one point, I even thought that Kathy (the main character) had much more awareness and understanding of her actions/reactions than any normal human going about their day would. She not only understood her own reactions/actions, but those of her friends. I kept thinking that she would have made a great counselor, :-) Thanks for the author recommendation!


Alex Oh good. Very pleased that it worked out for you.

And how's Imperium going, Carolyn?


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (SusannaG) | 35 comments I have finished Lustrum, and enjoyed it.


Alex Ah - for those who are confused, Lustrum and Conspirata are the same book. I was confused. Susanna, so jealous. I have to wait for either Kindle or at least paperback so it's more portable. We'll catch up with you some day!


Carolyn Chriss (cchriss) | 37 comments Alex wrote: "Oh good. Very pleased that it worked out for you.

And how's Imperium going, Carolyn?"


Finished Imperium last week. Like others, I found myself staying up until the wee hours, unable to put it down. I liked it a lot and am looking forward to continuing the saga. I didn't know much about Cicero before this. Didn't know that lawyers were so prevalent in Roman society. Plus ca change. I loved the trial of Verres - that Cicero was the first to skip making an opening statement, and the unintended consequences of that deal with Pompey. If the later intrigue isn't as accurate as that trial, I didn't know it. I assume that the support of the aristocrats is true as is the Caesar hatched land-grab plan and the resulting vote for Cicero. So if the presentation is embellished, compressed or composited, I'm okay with that as a necessary dramatic device. I found it really interesting to learn about the workings of the Roman Republic and the beginning steps that led to the rise of Emperors. Technology changes, people don't and the struggle between personal freedoms, fear and security hasn't changed.

So. One thing about using Tito as the entry to the story. Even "Tito" says that although he spent virtually every waking hour with Cicero, he didn't know him. This says it all for me. I understand the approach but I found that it distanced me from really knowing Cicero, too. There is a detachment from the character by observing him this way. I felt that I knew about him but I didn't know him. It didn't prevent me from enjoying the book immensely, but it also didn't help me to understand the man. Does that get better in the sequel?

Thank you all for joining me in this Buddy Read!


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Books mentioned in this topic

Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome (other topics)
Memoirs of Cleopatra (other topics)
The Remains of the Day (other topics)
Caesar's Women (other topics)
Lustrum (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

Marcus Tullius Cicero (other topics)
Robert Harris (other topics)
Kazuo Ishiguro (other topics)