I’ve always wished I could write Ms. Le Guin’s lucid prose. In so few words she can create a world and take you there. More than that, though, she slides you into the mind and mindset of her characters and gives you a sense of understanding their world. Lavinia’s world is also Virgil’s, because Lavinia is the king’s daughter from the Aeneid who marries Aeneas; together they founded the lineage of Rome. Virgil spares her one line, but Le Guin gives her a life.
In the novel Lavinia tells her own story, but she also tell the poet’s. There is a fine interweaving between the story from the sacred grove, where Lavinia met (and continues to meet) the spirit of the dying Virgil, and Lavinia’s own. Her future is foreshadowed by the poet’s words. She knows she will marry Aeneas and that he will live a scant three years longer. So we follow Lavinia as the threads are woven together: Lavinia’s growing up, her home and family, Virgil’s bloody battles and deaths, the sweet years of marriage, and then the struggles to see the son Lavinia bore Aeneas become the man his father would have wanted.
If you enjoyed Virgil’s Aeneid, you will enjoy seeing that one line fleshed out. If you like classical history, this is a fascinating glimpse of the little warrior states that eventually became part of Rome. For those who like poetic prose, a good story well told, and living through a different mind in another world, then Lavinia will be a book to enjoy again and again.