Author: Gore Vidal
Details: (c) 1962, 1964 Gore Vidal; Pub Signet (The New American Library)
Verdict: Julian is informative without being too didactic.
Reasons for reading it: To stop myself from dying of boredom while spending ten hours travelling from Cambridge to Dundee.
How it came into my hands: rysmiel sent me the loveliest present ever: a big pile of books! For logistical reasons, the parcel was sent to my parents', so I got the books when I was at home last week. *bounce*
I'm not really in the habit of reading historical novels, but I certainly found this one enjoyable. Talking to lethargic_man and then reading The Little Emperors at his recommendation got me interested in the end of the Roman empire, what it was like to live in the middle of such a major cultural transition. Julian is set mainly in the eastern part of the empire, which I know even less about than the western part in the last years of Roman civilization.
The people in Julian work rather less well than the background, I think mainly because the voices come across as very stilted and tend towards explaining things which I needed to know, but which are unnatural for people to explain when talking about their own culture. Still, the characterization is not terrible once you ignore the voice. And I was really, really interested in the background, particularly the portrait of the relationship between Christianity and the various forms of paganism in the generation after Constantine's Christianization of the empire. It's an interesting trick to present Christianity as the weird exotic religion with Mithraism and the Roman pantheon as the default; sometimes I felt the narrative tended towards being too bitchy or too much nudging the (modern) reader whom it seems to assume is post-Christian. But of course the characters themselves are pretty negative about Christianity, so it's all consistent.
I like the way the story is framed, with the two elderly philosophers discussing whether and how to publish Julian's personal memoir. That set-up made it possible to introduce several different perspectives on the religious and political issues, and effectively presents Julian both in the first person and the third person. And although I wasn't wholly convinced by the writing style, I did like the way it imitates the Roman style of writing history. The story of Julian's life is interesting in its own right, and I thought the tragic ending was particularly well handled.
Yay fun story!
Today is the 8th day, making one week and one day, of the Omer