I love historical fiction, it’s my thing and this often gets touted as the first “modern” historical novel, so I of course was very curious. Started this last year in English, but intelligently put the book in the storage room with the rest of my on-hold life, found it in one of the free book cases in German though and finished it. Except, as I’ve learned while looking for pics for this review, I most likely read the condensed German translation that includes Claudius The God too and was arranged by Graves himself with the help of the translator.
Anyway, I really liked this version, although my unintentional theme for this cannonball seems to be: “old dudes hooking up with young women”.
The book tells the fictionalised life of emperor Claudius, the fourth Roman Emperor, as if it was his found memoirs. As it’s wont with ancient Roman lives of the upper classes, the story is filled, with intrigue, deception, power plays, poisonings, beheadings, oh so many beheadings and Power with a capital P.
Claudius is the underdog in the succession, with his stutter and limp, but they also save him from his uncle’s (Tiberius) and nephew’s (Caligula, yes, that one) wrath and jealous suspicion. He claims he doesn’t want to be emperor, nor a god, yet he seems very comfortable in the positions once he reaches them and he also feels not-so-humble pride at his achievements for the greatness of Rome, like the expansion into and colonisation of Britannia.
I really enjoyed the pov, the slightly unreliable narrator who purposefully keeps the reader in the dark on some things and makes other things obvious before they come clear to the main “character”. I also mostly enjoyed the many women, who all played such important roles in his life, first and foremost his grandmother Livia, a true, ever so lightly psychopathic HIBC, who habitually poisoned her great-grandchildren and many more. His third, very young wife, Messalina is super interesting as well, the original “nympho” in Western literature (in Western tradition of ancient Rome in general) makes a complex, if clearly written from a male perspective antagonist. Same goes for Herod Agrippa and that strange little Jewish cult forming in Judea, which of course needs to be extra emphasised by a Christian author.
It is a good read that allows you to recognise a lot from your history lessons and puts them in an entertaining narrative/context. Some bits haven’t aged that well and it does get a bit excessively blood-thirsty at some points, but if you’re still looking for a present for a history nut, I can recommend this.