A gem of historical fiction,
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This review is from: The Abyss (Black Swan) (Paperback)
I read Memoirs of Hadrian and it became my favourite book. Like the former I think The Abyss is a book that can only be written by someone who had read thousands of books herself, who was conversant in multiple languages including the two dead ones, in short an erudite. She was also an excellent researcher and I found the references at the end of the book very telling. There are books from 1830s and 1880s as well as more modern from 1920s. I remember reading history books from 1910, published before the two world wars - and the sense what Europe is and what was important in history was vastly different.
The Abyss, like the Memoirs of Hadrian, brings an era back to life. Warts and all. Zeno is an unusual character for these times, I suppose for any times actually, a person intent on finding his own truth and of undefined religious belonging. In an era where saying the wrong prayer could get you killed - this, to find his own truth, wasn't a modest desire. He goes through his life of learning and travelling and publishing his truths and on the jouney develops grudging compassion and deep understanding of human condition. He still retains the desire for his own truth for his own decisions until the final moments.
Yourcenar's laconic writing is deceptively simple and can at times seem lacking in flourish but this is exactly what makes her prose so admirable to say such meaningful things in such a laconic way. This takes years and years of practise. Its easier to describe something with multitude of words rather than one precise phrase.