Julia's Reviews > The Volcano Lover: A Romance

The Volcano Lover by Susan Sontag
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it was ok
bookshelves: literature-fiction

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 “glamorous intellectual,” as Vanity Fair puts it. Yet her chief strength may lie in nothing much more than the ability to assume a voice of authority at all times. In the case of The Volcano Lover, what this produces is a solemn rather than a serious novel, in which portentous observations are made in the tone of someone offering a glimpse of the Holy Grail."

It is that cold, distant, "voice of authority" narrator that made this a very hard book for me to read. Strangely, that voice works best when describing the volcano itself--but the people in the book remain puppets and Sontag comes right out, at the very end of the book, and states how she despises them. In the last 4 pages of the book, the "voice" is that of Eleonora Pimentel as she is about to be hanged for her part in the Neapolitan revolution of 1799. Those 4 pages are simply amazing. Eleonora ends the book by saying:

"But I cannot forgive those who did not care about more than their own glory or well-being. They thought they were civilized. They were despicable. Damn them all."

So perhaps Sontag deliberately set up William and Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson to be self-indulgent puppets--but I have little patience with authors who detest their own characters. If Sontag had written a diatribe against wealth and aristocats, she should have used her famous essay form. And if she IS an advocate for the poor, why write this novel without bringing them into the picture at all?

I have to admit I skimmed this book rapidly--but those last 4 pages stopped me in my tracks. Those pages brought the book from one star to two for me.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
February 1, 2012 – Finished Reading
February 19, 2012 – Shelved

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