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The Volcano Lover: A Romance Paperback – February 19, 1997


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Focusing on the famous love triangle between British envoy Sir William Hamilton, his wife Emma and her lover Lord Nelson, Sontag's intellectual historical romance, a 10-week PW bestseller in cloth, paints an unconventional portrait of 18th-century society.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The astringently intellectual Sontag here turns to lush historical romance based on the real-life triangle of Sir William Hamilton, his wife Emma, and Lord Nelson. The English ambassador to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the late 1700s, the Cavaliere is an exacting collector of antiquities and a frequent visitor to Mount Vesuvius. When his devoted wife Catherine dies, he becomes enamored of his nephew's beautiful if vulgar mistress. Emma gladly marries her benefactor but finds real love when heroic Lord Nelson visits Naples. The story starts slowly, and the Cavaliere's relation as collector to the collected Emma seems too obvious. But as Sontag warms to her subject, the novel becomes rich, expansive, and highly entertaining, right down to the slambang final chapters whose rapidly shifting voices suddenly provide new perspective. Hardly digressions, Sontag's many aesthetic speculations wonderfully enhance the plot. A fine novel of ideas, this is sure to please venturesome readers of historical romance as well. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/92.
-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (February 19, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385267134
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385267137
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,270,327 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Susan Sontag was born in Manhattan in 1933 and studied at the universities of Chicago, Harvard and Oxford. She is the author of four novels, a collection of stories, several plays, and six books of essays, among them Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors. Her books are translated into thirty-two languages. In 2001 she was awarded the Jerusalem Prize for the body of her work, and in 2003 she received the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. She died in December 2004.

Customer Reviews

As an essayist she is no doubt better, but this novel is somewhat bloated and lacks focus (as well as quotation marks).
D. Knapp
Besides for those who like to underline pages or makes comments on the side of them, the most likely event is that the book will end severely scratched.
Amazon Customer
Her major problem, it seems to me, was her excessive devotion to some very dubious modernist figures and the climate of opinion they created.
reading man

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 52 people found the following review helpful By E. G. Tolon on July 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
In The Volcano Lover, Susan Sontag writes beautifully about people she eventually condemns. Not that they have done anything wrong, they are the privileged aristrocracy of the late 18th century. They are absorbed by love, art and by their professional duties. They live beautiful, active, somewhat intelligent lives. Page after page, we live and grow with them. But then there's the world around them. It appears in the form of the distant and then not so distant French Revolution, which swells in the background trying to break into a story that is fundamentally intimate and personal. Or is it really? As our heroes leisurely love, celebrate and keep busy, drawing us into their own self absorbtion, thousands get killed and butchered because they dreamt a better world. A real nuisance if you ask our characters. Lord Hamilton is in love with a volcano but completely bypasses,as we do, the much more relevant, violent and deadly force of the political upheaval. Susan Sontag's The Volcano Lover is ultimately a beautiful story of people who don't care. How normal they are. How they fool us into thinking them deep and interesting. So much that by the end of the book, the realization comes as a shock. They were vain, reactionary, at best irrelevant like Emma. They missed the point. A wonderful tour de force.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
Susan Sontag's THE VOLCANO LOVER (1992) is about Sir William Hamiliton, for decades British Embassador to the Court of Naples, his young wife Emma (who clearly was not of our class) and her lover, the Great Hero, Horatio Nelson. The three of them were bound together in a very odd relationship. The kind, elderly Hamilton had a brilliant aesthetic eye and was a connoisseur of beautiful antiquities. He assembled a great collection, much of which is now in the British Museum, including the sublime 1st century Roman cameo glass vessel, the PORTLAND VASE. THE VOLCANO LOVER is also about Vesuvius, a still active volcano which periodically puts on a show, and about passion, acquisitiveness, beauty, romance, corruption and lots more. The first three-quarters of this dense novel is rendered mostly in the present tense: the style is quite formal and slightly archaic: the voice is cool, uninflected, detached - but not unfeeling. For the attentive reader, the effect is hypnotic. Sontag is an admirably careful, spare writer. Her distinctive, emphatic rhythms are always evident, but never obtrusive.
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42 of 50 people found the following review helpful By L. Dann on March 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
I read this book three times and each time it seemed like a new novel. After my first read, I thought I'd read a love story, after the other two, I was captivated by history and technique. We learn at the beginning of the novel that the Queen of Naples is none other than the sister of the recently guillotined, Marie Antoinette. Both Austrian women were sent to foreign lands to reign as queens. The contempt of the people, actually displaced subversion toward their inept spouses, was mismanaged by both sisters. Both, failed to transcend the 'foreign' cloak. They had none of the scheming, political savy of their mother, Maria Theresa. The Royal Court of Napels is impossibly crude. We are introduced to the maloderous, strainings and grunts of the sovereign's daily bowel movements, to which Ambassador, Lord Hamilton, bestower of the title of the book, is honored by a position closest to the specially constructed raised,'throne.' The dull-witted, physicaly repulsive monarch, besides keeping his wife chronically pregnant, with offspring numbering in the teens, has one other passion, which he indulges with equal lust. That is his daily 'hunting' of hundreds of animals, which are dragged and thrown in the streets and there left to rot. A self-indulgent glutton; those many hungry subjects receive nothing from the daily slaughter.
Lord and Lady Hamilton are the sole intimates of the monarchs, despite her Ladyship's low origins, evening performances and love for spirits. In the glorious Naples, these two British subjects live in marked splendor surrounded by Hamilton's obsession with 'treasures' he unearths from his obsession with Vesuvious.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Doug Anderson VINE VOICE on July 4, 2007
Format: Paperback
For readers of Sontag's most celebrated essay collections it was obvious that the most intimate connection of her early writing life was with the ideas of the great European thinkers and film makers (Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Jean Luc Godard). She was more political than the decidedly apolitical Roland Barthes but her essays were never part of a larger political project either perhaps because like Walter Benjamin she wanted to believe but perhaps never really did believe that art and politics really made much of an impression on each other. The only place art and politics did seem to come into contact was when one of those rare individuals who were interested in both tried to understand what the nature of that connection might be. And when one of those rare individuals did try to describe the connection between these two apparently disparate realms what resulted was a melancholy realization that when it came to politics/history art really did not count for much. Only in the essay form itself does it seem that art and politics are mutually dependent realms and that individuals (and not impersonal forces like class or national interest) shape history.

What I suspect Sontag is doing in The Volcano Lovers is trying to negotiate that connection between art and politics/history in a form other than the essay, but the result is not particularly riveting, or, for that matter, in any way engaging either as a piece of cultural history or as a piece of cultural criticism as each of the characters come across as either curiously self-involved (Goethe, Lord Nelson) or self-detached (Sir William Hamilton). In fact few characters in the history of literature have been as detached from the events of their own life as Sontag's main character, Sir William Hamilton.
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