Friday, November 29, 2013

363 (2013 #47). The Memoirs of Cleopatra

by Margaret George

Written in much the same style as her Autobiography of Henry VIII, The Memoirs of Cleopatra is a biographical novel told in first person narrative format.  Like Margaret George's other similar works, it's huge - 964 pages in the library's trade paperback format.

This book also uses a similar device to that of Henry VIII - another narrator, her personal physician Olympos (a real person, although his name is usually spelled Olympus), writes an "eleventh scroll" to follow Cleopatra VII's ten "scrolls" (a device for dividing the book into sections), that tells of her death and what happened afterwards. 

The illustration on the cover is from a portion of an 1887 painting of Cleopatra depicting her the way most of us picture her, especially from the movie starring Elizabeth Taylor.  The novel, like the nonfiction Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff, presents the Egyptian queen as a highly intelligent woman and powerful leader.  Much of its length comes from details about the beautiful city of Alexandria in Egypt, its famous library and lighthouse, temples throughout Egypt, and life in that time and place, as well as similar details for Rome. 

There's a map at the beginning of the book which is extremely useful, as all the countries referred to in the novel either no longer exist today or have different names and boundaries.  George has an author's note at the end that tells who is and isn't real, what's factual, and enumerates many of her sources.

George makes Cleopatra into a character I cared about, despite some minor anachronisms and bringing some more modern ideas into this Egyptian time period.  In the author's note, she said she has "a fascination and commitment to Cleopatra that goes back to ...childhood," and the rich details she provides make that obvious.

I've added a label/tag for Margaret George, as I now know I'll be reading all of her biographical novels.  Who should be next - Helen of Troy, Mary Magdalene, Elizabeth I, or Mary, Queen of Scots?

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

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