Top critical review
35 of 42 people found this helpful
Where were those editors when they were most needed?
on March 14, 2007
A biographical novel re-creating the entire life of an enigmatic, yet colourful, ambitious, conniving and flamboyant character such as Cleopatra embellished and fleshed out with fictional anecdotes and details to bring an enormous cast of characters to life cannot help but be long in the telling. The problem is compounded, of course, when the cast includes a list of players such as Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Octavian and Herod, King of Judea, each of whom is larger than life and worthy of a biography in their own right. Now, any lover of books knows that long need not of necessity be tedious but, frankly, even George's first-rate story telling abilities were simply not consistent enough or compelling enough to render this novel enjoyable for its excessive 1000 page length.
Oh, it had its exciting moments, to be sure - the high speed running sea battle with the Mediterranean pirates off the coast of Sicily; the final epic confrontation with Octavian at Actium; Cleopatra's heart-rending grief and the conflicting surge of her searing anger and dismay at the moment of Caesar's assassination; the crystal clear depiction of her character as a strong-willed, self-centered woman who was willing to risk all to further her ambitions and to protect the birthright of her son - but these moments were separated by intervals that were so wide as to render the book a tedious, difficult novel to complete with only sporadic rewards for those who persevered.
On the plus side, George injected her story with plenty of entertaining and informative historical aside raising questions that would certainly serve as fodder for interesting, thought-provoking discussion on a wide variety of topics germane even to this very day. Two examples in particular stood out for me.
This excerpt on the religious beliefs of the Egyptians of the day:
"Together Osiris, Isis, and Horus live as the holy family, a blessed three. The birth-chapel commemorated the miraculous birth of the child. Across the water from Philae, on the neighboring island of Biggeh, part of Osiris lay buried, and every ten days a golden statue of Isis was ferried over in a sacred barque to visit her divine spouse.",
would probably cause a modern Christian to pause, scratch his head and muse at the common appearance of the concept of Trinity.
As Cleopatra waited for news of Antony's exploits in Parthia, she thought:
"The Queen in me yearned for his victory, and prayed for that; the wife feared he would not return alive, and begged Isis only for his life. I was both the Spartan wife, saying, 'Return with your shield or on it,' and the Egyptian wife saying, 'Only return - even without the shield.'"
It occurred to me to wonder what the modern spouse says about their partner who has chosen a career in the military. Are they thinking in terms of honour, valour, career, survival, service to their country??
"The Memoirs of Cleopatra" was a rewarding, informative and interesting novel but an intimidating, time-consuming, slog of a read that took will-power and dedication to complete. Recommended for those that enjoy ancient history, but only just!