Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book Review: I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Synopsis (from fantasticfiction.co.uk):

Despised for his weakness and regarded by his family as little more than a stammering fool, the nobleman Claudius quietly survives the intrigues, bloody purges and mounting cruelty of the imperial Roman dynasties. In I, Claudius he watches from the sidelines to record the reigns of its emperors: from the wise Augustus and his villainous wife Livia to the sadistic Tiberius and the insane excesses of Caligula. Written in the form of Claudius' autobiography, this is the first part of Robert Graves's brilliant account of the madness and debauchery of ancient Rome, and stands as one of the most celebrated, gripping historical novels ever written.

Avid Reader's Review:

4 Stars

Considered a masterpiece of historical fiction, Robert Graves' I, Claudius brings the splendour and might and the cruelty and depravity of Ancient Rome vividly to life.  Written in the form of an autobiography by Emperor Claudius, who served as Roman Emperor from 41 to 54 AD, the novel brings the reader right inside the world of Ancient Roman politics.   Although the novel begins with a history of Claudius' immediate family, the principal focus is on the events of Claudius' life, as well as of those of the key members of his family, up until he becomes Roman Emperor. 

While Claudius is the focus of novel it is the 'villains' that truly shine.   These villains, who come right from the pages of history, include Livia Drusilla, grandmother to Claudius and wife of the Emperor Augustus, who will stop at nothing to get what she wants; Tiberius, uncle to Claudius and one of Rome's cruelest rulers; and Caligula, nephew to Claudius and Roman Emperor before him, who is best described as mad.  Indeed, readers will be hard pressed to identify any other characters from literature as selfish, malicious and depraved as the villains found here.

My only criticism of the novels stems from the lack of inclusion of Claudius' family tree or a cast of characters.  This would have been extremely beneficial at the start of the novel when Claudius' discusses his family, which was complex and included some very convoluted relationships.  I found it hard to keep track of all the various marriages and adoptions referenced in the novel, especially between those characters who had the same or similar names.    It was for this reason I gave the novel 4 stars rather than 5.    Despite this one critique, I, Claudius deserves the praise it has received throughout the years, as it is both wonderfully entertaining and educational.   I'm very much looking forward to reading the sequel, Claudius the God, in 2011.