Review – Augustus

Posted December 8, 2016 by Nicky in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Augustus by John WilliamsAugustus, John Williams

It’s amazing the range of opinions you can find on Augustus Caesar. Some think he was the saving of Rome, a morally upright man who revitalised his country. Others think of him as a traitor, and a hypocritical one at that. I don’t know exactly what I think; I guess I probably think that he was a complex person who ultimately did what he thought best, like most of us. This book goes with the latter view, with a fairly sympathetic eye. It took me a while to decide whether I really enjoyed it: it’s slow-paced, and sometimes the timeline is difficult to follow, as people are writing from one point in time about an earlier point in time, but then the next letter might be from the earlier point in time, but portraying the next set of events. Did that make sense? It sort of does in context, but it can make it a bit more difficult to follow.

I did enjoy Williams’ decision to examine a central issue of Augustus’ life: his moral reforms, and then the fact that his own beloved daughter fell afoul of them. He had her banished from Rome, for all that he spent a great deal of her life watching over her and guiding her in a way many men didn’t bother with for daughters. And Williams does some interesting things with unreliable narrators: we get several different perspectives on the same people and events. Was Julia kidding herself, or was Augustus right — did she plot against her father?

It is rather slow, as I said, and the epistolary format combined with the complex timeline doesn’t help. I enjoyed it as a sort of thought experiment, but I’m not sure how much I enjoyed it as a story, if that makes sense.

Rating: 4/5

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3 responses to “Review – Augustus

  1. Interesting, Nikki. I’d forgotten that business of his banishing his daughter. I too have no settled opinion of Augustus; my natural inclination on the little I’ve read of them besides Shakespeare was to side with the republicans Cassius and Brutus, though I didn’t like their methods, against Julius Ceaser and later the Triumverate or whatever they called it with Mark Anthony and Augustus then Octavius and that man whose name I always forget . Unlike Brutus, both Anthony and Augustus seem to have been motivated largely by calculation. Augustus both in real life and in Shakespeare was an intriguing character, a cold politician, and in real life obsessively in love with his second wife – I believe he divorced his first wife the day after she had given birth to marry her – was she called Lavonia? I don’t know if the ugly stories of his buying girls to deflower was true – so hard to tell after so many centuries!
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