The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
An epistolary novel focusing on the life of the creator of the Roman emire, John Williams' Augustus is a wonderful read. Psychologically convincing and utterly absorbing, it uses a variety of imagined letters, journals and official papers from those around Augustus - his friends such as Maecenas, Marcus Agrippa, Hoace and Virgil, his enemies such as Brutus, Marc Antony and Cleopatra, and members of his family like his daughter Julia whom he loves but is obliged to exile permanently from Rome.
The picture that emerges is one of a man struggling to create an identity that will withstand the compromises of power, to "find or invent within himself some hard and secret part that is indifferent to himself, to others, and even to the world that he is destined to remake," while being relentlessly crushed under the weight of the edifice he is building.
This is a book that speaks powerfully to the modern world while at the same time bringing the ancient world vividly to life. More ambitious than Williams' much-lauded Stoner but equally precise in its depiction of human frailty, it is one of those novels that enlarges our understanding of the world.