I have finished reading Colleen McCullough’s The First Man in Rome and it only took me 24 days! As you may recall, the entire book spans 1076 pages with the story proper comprising 931 of those. I chuckled at the Los Angeles Times quote in the front of the book: “An awesome and epic new work…This is an absolutely absorbing story—not simply of the military and political intrigues that went into the final days of the Republic but also of what it was like to live, love and survive at this pivotal point in our civilization…A master storyteller…A 900-plus-page novel that is every bit as hard to put down as it is to pick up.” [emphasis mine] Yes, it is a rather hefty lift!
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 started by sharing my first thoughts about the novel, then my impressions of life in ancient Rome and some overall observations of the story and writing. Today I’m going to talk about the story and my take-aways.
I will admit to being happily surprised to enjoy the story. It’s filled with political intrigue, infighting, actual fighting for ascendancy in the government, and revenge. All of which is not something I typically enjoy reading. I can’t put my finger on what the author did to weave that magical spell over me, but she did! In doing so, I feel like I glimpsed life in ancient Rome. She made that life style along with its trials and tribulations and achievements come to life for me.
More than once I wondered about the kind of research she must have delved into in order to provide the specific details. Did she find source material as to the layout of the ancient buildings and spaces she includes in the story? Did she walk down the roads, the steps, through the green spaces and cluttered parts of the city? How did she know the fighting techniques, the technological advancements, the strategies employed by the generals of the various armies, and, well, everything? The various maps she includes are rather difficult to read but they do help me visualize the areas she writes about. McCullough’s details create a vibrant, breathing society on the page. Makes me want to go do some research of my own.
I’ve read The Thornbirds by McCullough way back when I was a teen. Her style drew me in then just as strongly as she did with this one. That style also seems similar to other historical authors even though she has a unique narrative voice throughout her works. What I mean is that I didn’t notice anything about her author voice that stood out as different than a good storyteller’s technique. As I read from authors around the world, I wonder if I will come across any who write with a different rhythm or meter. We’ll see, I guess…
So, what’s next you may be asking? Dorothy Dunnett’s The Game of Kings. It’s half the size of The First Man in Rome so theoretically it should take me half the time to read it, right?
Happy reading and happy holidays to all!
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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.