As much as I’d like to say I’d finished reading Colleen McCullough’s The First Man in Rome such is not the case! But I am thoroughly enjoying the story, at least most of the time. But I’ll get into that in a minute.
First, I’d like to share that in honor of Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day on December 7, I’ve put my historical women’s fiction story, Notes of Love and War, on sale for only $1.99 (ebook) now through December 14. This story is set in Baltimore, Maryland, during World War II, and was inspired by my parents’ correspondence during and after the war. If you’re unsure, you can download and read a free sample here. More info about the story is below. I hope you enjoy it!
Now back to The First Man in Rome. If you’re just joining my tour of historical fiction written by authors from around the world, you might want to start here by reading why I chose The First Man in Rome. Note that I’m broadening my reading by sampling historical fiction written by authors in countries other than my own USA. I want to see what different nationalities have to say about their point of view of history. I don’t know what I’ll find, but that’s the fun and intrigue for me! I started by sharing my first thoughts about the novel, and last week I gave my impressions of life in ancient Rome. I’m more than half way through this 930+ page story, so hopefully will finish reading it this week.
As I read this intricate and expansive tale of life and politics in ancient Rome, it is quite evident to me that the author had to do extensive research and then employ her impressive imagination to weave the story. I already mentioned the glossary and pronunciation guides which enhance the story for me. I’ve referred to them a few times as I’ve been reading to remind myself of the history or meaning of a reference, or on how to correctly pronounce a given name. It’s not a requirement, naturally, but it does help me. I find myself wondering just how much research she did before writing this book. Which, by the way, is the first in a series.
Did she research each individual focus character so she could authentically portray the person’s attitude, goals, means to an end? How much is based on historical fact versus her vision of how it might have unfolded? I don’t know but I suspect from the authoritative tone of the narrative (as well as the detailed glossary) that she knows her setting, characters, and historical context through and through.
Speaking of the narrative, McCullough chose to use an omniscient narrator of this story. For those who aren’t sure what “omniscient” means, it’s when the narrator is privy to what every character is experiencing in the story and shares it with the reader. Omniscient can even mean the narrator knows the back story of each character, the reasons for why they do what they do. McCullough switches easily between various character points of view, even within one scene. This technique can easily become what is known as “head hopping” in contemporary fiction, but works well in her hands for this story. I found myself comparing how I ended up using first person point of view in my historical women’s fiction title, Becoming Lady Washington. That choice meant I didn’t need to know the motives and intentions of the other characters, just their actions and her interpretation of them. But McCullough delves into and reveals the motives and intents of many of the characters in her story. Thus I think she must have spent a good deal of time getting to know these actual historical figures and characters based on the culture before having them join forces on the page.
I do have one tiny gripe about the writing, which is more my pet peeve than any real critique. There are a few “info dumps” within the story. To me, an info dump is when the author includes a block of unnecessary or irrelevant description or history. In one such section, 2-3 pages of description of the villa’s layout go by before the point of view character dismisses it as unnoticed. I’m left to ponder, then why include it in such detail from his point of view? Now I realize that other readers may be looking for the kind of flooring, what’s hanging on the walls, what rooms lead to what other parts of the house as a sort of setting the stage for the story. And it does and it is somewhat interesting, I admit. I just think it could have been woven into the story from his point of view instead of paragraphs of description beforehand. But maybe that’s just me!
McCullough also uses contemporary language throughout her story. Some of the terms are a bit jarring to me, because I strive to keep my word choices to ones used in the time period of my stories. For example, I came across the word “infected” and it pulled me right out of the story because I’m thinking to myself, they didn’t know about germs, so would they have used that word? (In case you’re interested, according to the Oxford English Dictionary “infected” didn’t enter written English until 1480 AD.) But when you’re writing for a modern reader about the time period of 110 B.C. in the Roman Empire which spoke Latin or Greek, to do so would make the story unreadable to the modern reader. I don’t know how formal their spoken language might have been then, and researching documents from that time would only tell how formal the written language was. Either way, we, modern readers, know what the word means even if they wouldn’t. I do try to keep in mind that modern writers are telling stories for modern readers. So sometimes the more familiar terms have to carry the story.
Enough of my musings for this week! I suppose I should get back to reading, and writing my own books, plus addressing some holiday greeting cards and decorating the house for Christmas.
Happy reading and happy holidays to all!
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Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.
Audrey Harper needs more than home and hearth to satisfy her self-worth despite being raised with the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. Working as a music critic for the city newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland, during the Second World War, she’s enjoyed both financial freedom and personal satisfaction in a job well done. When she uncovers evidence of German spies working to sabotage a secret bomber plane being manufactured in her beloved city, she must choose between her sense of duty to protect her city and the urgings of her boss, her family, and her fiancé to turn over her evidence to the authorities. But when her choices lead her and her sister into danger, she is forced to risk life and limb to save her sister and bring the spies to justice.
Set against the backdrop of the flourishing musical community during the 1940s in Baltimore, Notes of Love and War weaves together the pleasure of musical performance with the dangers of espionage and spying.