- Publisher: Virago Modern Classics / Virago Press Ltd; First Edition edition (2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1844082156
- ISBN-13: 978-1844082155
- Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.3 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,786,066 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Theodora - Actress, Empress, Whore Hardcover – 2010
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
A splendid subject, traced with energy and much juicy detail * Sunday Times * Theodora is exquisitely summoned by Duffy ... a story rich in colour, texture and taste, told in a fleet-footed narrative * Daily Telegraph * A witty, moving, sexy novel that bursts with as much colour and excitement as the city of Constantinople itself ... a joyous and energetic read * Financial Times * --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Stella Duffy is the author of seven novels and the Saz Martin crime series. She has published over thirty short stories, many feature articles, and also writes for radio and theatre. Stella Duffy was born in the UK, grew up in New Zealand and now lives in London. In addition to her writing work she is an actor and improviser. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Browse award-winning titles. See more
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Duffy tells the story of how she achieved this improbable feat, born into a world which offered her little choice beyond taking to the stage of the Hippodrome as an acrobat and comedienne renowned, so history tells it, for lewd performances. Offstage, like all actresses of the period, she earned money as a prostitute -- and the most she could hope for was to find someone who would take her on as a mistress for the short term. Then, after her hopes in that direction collapse, she discovers a new direction for herself, both personally and as a public figure.
The Constantinople that Duffy portrays so vividly in this fascinating novel is a world in which ordinary working men and women are prepared to literally come to blows over the pressing theological issues of the day, particularly the precise nature of Christ's divinity. That territory has proven to be a mindfield for other authors, notably Anne Perry, whose The Sheen on the Silk: A Novel was deeply disappointing. Duffy succeeds triumphantly where Perry failed, painting a portrait in words of a woman whose face has come down to us through time in the form of the famous mosaics in Ravenna, Italy. Her Theodora is a pragmatist; hard-headed, ribald and too outspoken for her own good, her challenge to develop judgment, compassion and heart. And the world she inhabits is conjured up for us from the physical setting to its scents and sounds; its mores and the ribald dramas its masses prefer; the role of eunuchs and the importance of the various religious schisms -- Monophysite, Arian, etc. None of that ever feels overwhelming in Duffy's hands.
Best of all, Duffy doesn't make the mistake of romanticizing Theodora's story. For years, Theodora knows pain and pleasure, but romantic love was largely absent in any modern sense in her era, and Duffy doesn't fall into the trap of trying to impose a 21st century ethos on her 6th century characters. True, the language is crisp and modern -- no "thees" and "thous" -- but the attitudes are very much of the time. That can make it harder to identify with Theodora as a person, perhaps, but not to enjoy or appreciate the book itself, which I simply couldn't put down.
This novel is a boon for historical fiction fans, especially those in search of a respite from the endless stream of books set in northern Europe from the 14th to the 17th centuries. Duffy has made her name in the UK with some of her contemporary novels short-listed for the Orange Prize; I'll be hunting for some of those as well as hoping that she pens a sequel to this excellent book, which ends as Justinian and Theodora become rulers of the empire.
Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of the book via NetGalley.com. I expect that when it becomes available for purchase in the US that I'll be adding it to my permanent library.
The narration follows Theodora throughout, so that the reader basically walks alongside her in her various journeys and roles, but it is not written first-person. My personal preference would be for a little variation here so that we get more insight into others, but the perspective is maintained consistently. The mode of writing gradually shifts from being constrained and almost claustrophobic, to much more open and loose, mirroring the gradual changes in her situation. We learn about her bodily responses to situations, her changing emotions, and her spirituality, all in the context of the late Roman empire after the fall of Rome, while the eastern Mediterranean was the hub of power and wealth.
So, with all of this great stuff, why did the book not grip me more? I think there are two features which, for me, cost the book the fifth star. One is that I did not really get on with the writing style - I found it rather plain and straightforward. I like more poetry to slip through the lines of prose - not necessarily in the rather explicit way I have chosen for my own writing, but at least in the way that other authors have successfully managed to bring something of the passion and beauty of poetic ornament into their story.
The other reason - probably related to the first - is that I never found myself moved emotionally by the writing. The tale itself should have lent itself to all kinds of emotion, from pain and anguish through pleasure to wild delight, but it just did not do this for me, I'm afraid. The events left me rather cold and distant - I appreciated the skill of blending history and fiction, and was interested in the endpoint of Theodora's wanderings, but I was never moved to any sort of passionate feeling by the book. Four stars will have to do, along with a genuine recommendation to read the book and see if your feelings are different to mine.
(This review originally posted on Amazon.co.uk where I had purchased a copy)