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Avg. Rating: 3.5
A Fictional, Historical Flop
A patchwork of history, fiction and feminist commentary, Sontag's novel falls short in virtually every category.
The title of the book is misleading as well. This was neither the story of a volcano lover nor the narrative of a collector. It was a somewhat fractured portrait of the volcano lover's wives.
Sontag hasn't done an especially good job with character development either. Farting kings, eccentric aristocrats and bloated women jump from the pages as caricatures rather than fully developed characters.
Lord Nelson, a principal figure in the book, is never actually named, but simply referred to as "the hero." A device that falls rather flat in what tends to be a rather tedious read.
As historical fiction, Madison Smartt Bell's Haitian trilogy is far superior to Sontag's novel. And her feminist spin on a bygone era falls considerably short of Michel Faber's "The Crimson Petal and the White."
The 1,500-page-plus trilogy and 800-page-plus Faber novel by the way are quicker, more compelling reads than Sontag's much shorter, but much more boring and disjointed "romance."
Punctuation and the lack of quotation marks would be the very least of my concerns about this particular book. After all, if we can get through Ulysses or Finnegan's Wake, Sontag's fiction by comparison would qualify an easy read. No...there's much more missing here than quotation marks.
I really had a hard time getting through the bizarre, disjointed prologue, but trudged onward because of the good reviews I have read about this novel. However, I soon discovered that the dialogue has no quotation marks - The Kiss of Death as far as I am concerned.
The plot and characters of this book have been admirably described by the other reviewers on this page. I read The Volcano Lover for two reasons. First, I was interested in reading about a Vesuvius more active than the one we know today, and Sontag did a fairly good job with this. Second, I was interested in learning more about Lady Hamilton and Admiral Nelson as human beings rather than icons. Sontag's portrayal of both of these figures was believable and seemingly realistic. What came as surprise was the level of self-absorption and selfish wilfulness inherent in the characters of people normally viewed as heroic and selfless. Disappointing and somewhat disenchanting, to find that fidelity in marriage and friendship was as readily flauted in that era as it is now. Old-fashioned values even then.
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