Review – The Love Artist – Jane Alison
The Love ArtistJane Alison
Historical fiction/mythical fiction/romance

I picked this up for an online course about Historical Fiction and it covers the basis well enough. Set in the period of Emperor Augustus it charts the mysterious exile of the poet Ovid and his missing Medea manuscript. Exiled to Tomis on the Black Sea Ovid meets the mysterious Xenia, who is a good deal more than she first appears, witch, seer, almost ethereal in her ways, but at the same time very innocent and troubled.

This story contains so much – love, jealousy, intrigue, the quest for immortality and most important – metamorphosis. These themes are interwoven, metamorphosis changes love to jealous, obsession to failure, politics to hatred, and past and future all cleverly done with reference to Ovid’s own Metamorphosis. Almost bordering on fantasy or magical realism it must be remembered this is set in a time when magic and was considered real and our own beliefs and concepts should be put aside when reading this, to truly enjoy it.

A lot of research went into the book, including visits to modern Rome and retracing footsteps, visits to museums, reading of primary archives, including Ovid himself and it shows. Although in places it is not a hundred per cent accurate the overall descriptions are sound, building a vivid world in both Tomis and the more decadent and corrupt Rome.

The love affair was intense but did meander a little towards the end, it was interesting to see the shift however, from the happiness in Tomis and early on in Rome to the jealously and distrust at the end. As Ovid’s work culminates so does their affair. Each is the other’s muse but in many ways each is unaware. They are looking for immortality, the quest to find the essence of it. Ovid wants to know if his work will live for ever and Xenia will not tell him, she wants to find the essence of life and he is repelled by this. Their affair is complex, and ultimately destructive as was the history of Rome itself.

There were a few weaknesses – there were quite a few repeated phrases, which worked for a while but did get a little irritating, I also found the ending a little unconvincing – there was a build up to a plan and then the epilogue turns it on its head. The ending also seemed a little rushed.

A bit more could have been explained about the relationship between Julia and Ovid and why Julia behaved as she did. This was covered but almost as an afterthought. A bit more from her point of view would have been nice. A little more about the role of magic, and why it was illegal would also have added.

Overall 4 stars.

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