Jonathan Harris teaches history at Royal Holloway, University of London. His previous books include The Lost World of Byzantium (2015), Constantinople: Capital of Byzantium (2nd ed. 2017) and Introduction to Byzantium (602-1453) (2020). Theosis (2023) is his first novel.
Loved It (3)
Liked It (1)
Did Not Like (1)
I so wanted to like this book. Numerous friends had read it and had urged me to do so. In any case, since much of what I knew about the court of Henry VIII was based on watching TV programmes and films such as A Man for All Seasons, I was especially intrigued by the idea of Thomas Cromwell as a sympathetic figure and Thomas More as a rather repulsive one. So I started reading with high hopes. But it just did not work for me. That was not because I regard Hilary Mantel as anything less than a great novelist and historian. She fully deserved the accolades. The problem was me: I just could not get on with the present-tense narrative. My loss ...
Published in 1934, this was one of the first novels where a historical personality tells their own story. In this case, it is the Roman emperor Claudius (reigned 41-54 CE) describing how he survived the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula when most of his friends and relatives met untimely ends. There is a sequel, Claudius the God, in which he tells the story of his own reign. I was 17 when I first read it and I was completely blown away by it: the characters of Tiberius and Caligula are riveting. I still like it now but I am more critical. Graves based the story very closely on the works of Roman historians such as Suetonius and Tacitus which makes for factual accuracy. But this is a novel so he could easily have left out some episodes (there are times when it gets slightly tedious) and perhaps used more imagination to fill out place and character. One odd feature is that Herod Agrippa was supposedly a close childhood friend of Claudius but he does not appear in I Claudius at all. He is only introduced in Claudius the God, necessitating a long backstory. Perhaps most important of all, there is no way of discerning where Claudius might be misleading in his version of events. We only have his narrative and his enemies and victims would doubtless have had a very different perspective.
I read this some time ago but it is a very engaging account of how a young person discovered his sexuality and the barriers that he encountered along the way. It is beautifully written and leads readers on from episode to episode, making them wonder how it will all work out. On the downside, as the novel is semi-autobiographical, it is hard distinguish the main character from White himself and some of the hard judgments that he makes of others, notably the parents, did jar slightly. I would have preferred it if he had moved the story and the character a little further from his own experience.
I was recommended this novel by a friend because it is partly about the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 which is something that I am particularly interested in. It turned out, in fact, to have three interwoven plotlines: Constantinople 1453, Idaho in the 21st century and a spacecraft somewhere in the future, all linked by one long-lost ancient Greek text. Strangely enough, while I enjoyed the sections about Constantinople, I liked the dysfunctional teenager in Idaho and the curious child in outer space even more. Perhaps because they took me into areas that were completely new: I have been to Istanbul several times but never to Idaho (nor to outer space for that matter).
Set in Oxford in 1663, Instance of the Fingerpost follows the same series events through the eyes of four different characters , all of whom are extremely unreliable witnesses. Only gradually does the truth of the matter emerge ....