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An Imaginary Life

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  2,004 ratings  ·  209 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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Vit Babenco
Apr 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An Imaginary Life is brief but it is profound, sad and wise.
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 transforma
Oct 27, 2014 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 f
Mollie Lipka
Aug 01, 2012 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,
Stephen P
Aug 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-read, australian
He begins his trek from the lap of comfort and luxury. Ovid’s poetry is lurid and he uses his fame to be a man about town. Stepping over a drawn line he is sequestered by the Roman authorities and banished to the farthermost point of civilization; to live amongst barbarians in a place of desolation, denuded of anything to grasp onto including time, space, and language. He is an afterthought to the tribe who do not speak his language nor he there’s. Their life of superstition and grave alliance w ...more
K.D. Absolutely
Aug 15, 2009 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 ...more
Roger Brunyate
May 08, 2016 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
Dec 04, 2016 added it
Shelves: fiction2016
Very strange book, hard to read and follow. Took me over a year as I much preferred the 50 other books I read in the past 11 months, mostly non-fiction.

I'm sure Malouf's other fiction is much more readable.
Aug 16, 2014 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.... ...more
James Murphy
Jul 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The imaginary life Malouf writes is that of Ovid, the Roman poet who wrote during the beginnings of the empire. Malouf explains in his "Afterword: A Note on Sources": "We know very little about the life of Ovid, and it is this absence of fact that has made him useful as the central figure of my narrative and allowed me the liberty of free invention, since what I wanted to write was neither historical novel nor biography, but a fiction with its roots in possible event."

Though we don't know why,
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.
Natalie M
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
More novella than novel, and it definitely requires some quiet, uninterrupted, focused reading (or at least I did) this is a classic, literary award winning tale by Australian author David Malouf, it is also one of the more challenging reads I’ve had in a long time.
Based on the life of Roman poet Ovid, this esoteric read will not be for many. At times sheer concentration is required (and I admit Google as I had forgotten some of the Ovid references).
If you’re not a buff of historical/classic poe
Regina Andreassen
Mar 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Beautiful lyric prose but a bit shallow and the character development needed work. In this story Ovid feels like a draft rather than a finished work. In my view, having Ovid as the protagonist of this story was unnecessary because it rises expectations that are not fulfilled. The main character of the book could have been a nameless character or could have been named ‘X’ and the effect and message of the story would have been the same or similar. Is this story a parable? Perhaps that is what it ...more
Jun 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Strange and stunning.
Nov 19, 2014 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
Jim Elkins
Jul 10, 2019 added it
Shelves: australian
A double allegory

"An Imaginary Life" (1978) is nominally the story of Ovid's exile and death. Ovid wrote two sets of poems from his exile in Tomis (in Pontus, a region of present-day Turkey on the Black Sea, and in Constanta, a Romanian city, also on the Black Sea), called Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto. Malouf used Tristia for his picture of the nearly barbarian outpost Pontus, but other than that he invented his "imaginary life." It strikes me as a double allegory:

1. It's an allegory of poetry
Sep 29, 2014 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
Catherine McNamara
May 27, 2012 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 embo ...more
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.
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There's a vibrant lucidity to Malouf's prose that I find so compelling. This is the second book of his that I've read after Ransom and in both novels I've found his writing to be simply striking. An Imaginary Life is a daring, abstract fictionalization of the poet Ovid's years in exile, and while half of me wonders about the choice in using Ovid to tell this story which could theoretically be about any person, real or fictional, the other half of me recognizes that the unique thematic nods to Ov ...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. ...more
I loved this and think it is Malouf's best work. ...more
The Lazy Reader
"Now that spring is no longer to be recognised in blossoms or in new leaves on trees, I must look for it in myself. I feel the ice of myself cracking. I feel myself loosen and flow again, reflecting the world. This is what spring means."

A work of blinding, sublime beauty. I was overcome at every passage. David Malouf gives in and revels in the spirtual ecstasy of nature. A reflection on what it means to transform, create, become- a metamorphoses of both art and life as it meets and completes wit
Ananya Ghosh
Just finished my exam on this yesterday, but had read it 4 months ago. XD And it was amazing, I was floored by the brilliance of this work. Also, thank God for classroom discussions. XD

The novel tells the fictional story of the great Latin poet Ovid through his voice, so it's essentially an autobiography, but written by another author, centuries later, inventing fiction upon the life of a historical character, yes, the premise is amazing!

It traces Ovid's life after his exile from Rome and delves
Leo Boudib
Oct 05, 2014 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 ad ...more
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 lik ...more
May 24, 2012 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
Aug 18, 2007 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 Bo ...more
May 07, 2011 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.
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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.

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