This is supposed to be a progress report on John Williams’ Augustus, but I have a feeling it’s going to turn into me feeling sorry for myself because I’m far away from home and getting a cold. (by Jill)


augustus coverHere’s the deal. I have about fifty pages to go in Augustus, and I really, really want to finish it before I write a post about it, but I need to talk about something tonight. I’ve been whining in my head a lot for the past thirty-six hours about my cold and my cough and the fact that I’m in Florida and why is it colder here than it is at home and why did I not bring my puffy North Face jacket? I’m beginning to tire of the subjects since I’ve pretty much only had myself for company since my mom left on Monday morning, and these are the topics that my mind has been spinning around and around since she left.

I doubt the bulk of our readers want to hear about the amazing talks I’ve been going to, either, though I think some of you guys are fellow veterinarians, so I guess I can blab about this conference a little. In short, the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC) is amazing. I’ve been to a few big meetings (AVMA three times and Western in Vegas once), but this one puts them to shame. I am literally overwhelmed by all the things I can learn here. The printed proceedings (yes, they still offer printed proceedings, another reason to love NAVC in my mind) weigh almost ten pounds! And that’s just the small animal stuff. I would probably want to come to this meeting every year if it were closer to home. I am still going to want to come back soon, and all of you veterinarians who I actually speak to on a regular basis are going to hear about this meeting and how you should all go. And technicians, too: they have more tech tracks here than I’ve ever seen at a conference. And it’s good stuff!

As far as Augustus, I mentioned last week sometime that I was getting hung up on the long, annoying Roman names. And that’s still an issue, but I’ve gotten to know who is who a little better so it’s less annoying. John Williams also wrote Stoner, which I blogged about sometime last year, and also quite enjoyed. I don’t know that I like one better than the other, because the settings are so different. Augustus is definitely much more ambitious in subject matter: drawing from ancient history is always more difficult, I would imagine, than an English professor writing about another English professor, even if the story takes in a slightly earlier era than that in which the author lived.

The titular Augustus is, of course, Augustus Caesar. I don’t remember if I mentioned that before. And even though he is the main character, none of the letters or diaries or poems that make up the novel are actually written by him. Well, at least, not yet. We are learning about the Emperor of Rome from a variety of sources: towards the end of the book it’s become primarily the diaries of his daughter, Julia, who is in exile from Rome for reasons I don’t yet know, though I suspect it’s because her husband is pissed that she’s been cuckolding him for most of their marriage, and all of Rome knows it. The other voices are friends of Augustus: Marcus Agrippa, Gaius Maecenas, Quintus Horatius Flaccus, Nicolaus of Damascus, among others. Early on we hear from Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra. My favorite, by far, is Julia. I hope there really were women like her in Ancient Rome: smart, funny, beautiful, and determined to live life on her terms, despite what the men who supposedly ruled her wanted her to do. I hope she really did think something like the words Williams gives her: “I think now of the devious ways in which a woman must discover power, exert it, and enjoy it. Unlike a man, she cannot seize it by force of strength or mind or desire; nor can she glory in it with a man’s open pride, which is the reward and sustenance of power. She must contain within her such personages that will disguise her seizure and her glory. Thus I conceived within myself, and let forth upon the world, a series of personages that would deceive whoever might look too closely; the innocent girl who did not know the world, upon whom a doting father lavished a love he could not give elsewhere; the virtuous wife, whose only pleasure was in her duty toward her husband; the imperious young matron, whose whim became the public’s wish; the idle scholar, who dreamed of a virtue beyond Roman duty, and fondly pretended that philosophy might be true; the woman who, late in life, discovered pleasure, and used men’s bodies as if they were the luxurious ointments of the gods; and who herself at last was used, to the intensest pleasure she had ever known… (199).” I think she is a great character, a well-drawn woman, and it impresses me so much that in the end this book all of a sudden turns out to be about Julia almost as much as it is about Augustus Caesar. I guess that’s why it won the National Book Award.

It’s too bad that John Williams only published three books in his lifetime. It’s really too bad that I only have one left to read, and then I’ll be done with him forever. I’d almost consider rereading his books, which is something I reserve for only the most special ones.

I’m not sure if I’ll be coming back to Augustus on the blog, though I suspect I will. And now I’ll get back to my busy evening of watching Doctor Who on my laptop in my very small and quiet hotel room.

This entry was posted in Fiction - general, Fiction - Historical, Fiction - Important Award Winners, Fiction - literary, John Williams, Reviews by Jill. Bookmark the permalink.

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