After reading The Hunger Games, I needed something a little less emotionally charged so I immediately turned to my favorite historical fiction writer, Margaret George. You may recall that I read George’s Elizabeth I a few weeks ago and absolutely loved it. It was the first time I was able to read a historical fiction novel without launching it across the room in frustration due to historical inaccuracy. George is a master storyteller who takes her cues from history. I love her writing and after reading Elizabeth I was eager for more.
I decided to read The Memoirs of Cleopatra. Remember when I said I needed something a little less “emotionally charged”? Yeah, this wasn’t that book. And I knew that, I mean, I’m very familiar with the life of Cleopatra, her life was anything but dull and lacking in emotion. This book captures that. Her life, her loves, her strength of character, her enemies- it’s all covered and it’s definitely not lacking in emotion. Obviously, I knew a lot of the facts of her life and I would be lying if I said Shakespeare hadn’t slightly colored my vision of her, but George brings to life a woman I think probably existed not an archetype of characterization, but a real person, a person it turns out, that I didn’t know that much about.
Of course, this is fiction so George was left to her own devices in terms of dialogue and what I like to call “filler story”, which is the story that wasn’t covered by history, the story we can only make educated guesses about. George is a genius at making educated guesses that are probably closer to truth than fiction. I have to be honest, I found a new respect for Cleopatra while reading this book. So often, when considering history we just look at what happened without imaging what the people involved were actually feeling. This book gives Cleopatra a voice. Her love and embarrassment of her father, her distrust of her sisters and one of her brothers, her ability to “own” a room, her worries over her beauty, her love for her children, her pride, her different but powerful loves of Caesar and Marc Antony, and above all her absolute devotion and adoration of her country. She was truly a Queen and a smart one at that.
When I started this book, I was less concerned with her relationships with Caesar and Marc Antony, feeling I knew quite enough about them. I was wrong of course. The complications, the worry, the way she never let a man, not even Caesar, bring her to her knees. She was a warrior in love. Yes, she loved these men, in fact, it would seem she loved them very passionately, but she was also independent of them and when they were away, she didn’t fall to pieces and mourn them until their return, she carried on amazingly. Quite a woman. I ended up quite liking George’s Marc Antony, although I didn’t care for Caesar as much- I never have though, to be honest and I’m quite sure George had a good measure of his character. Obviously, Cleopatra’s love affair and marriage to Marc Antony had a bloody ending but even that was told in way that made what she did after his death seem not only noble and fitting for her stature, but also wrought with devotion as well as political implications. It would seem Cleopatra could have had no other end but this.
If you have any interest at all in Cleopatra, I would highly recommend this book. It was a fascinating and thrilling read and most importantly (to me at least), stayed very true to actual historical fact. George has won me over all the more with this book and I can’t wait to read the next one I bought of hers!
What are you guys reading??