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Rufius Paperback – 4 Feb 2016
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Warning: Reading Rufius may induce forbidden thoughts. Also laughter, wonderment, and a discombobulating sensation of time travel. Proceed with caution but by all means, proceed! --Steven Saylor
Reminds me of Marguerite Yourcenar. Armed with the hypnotic prose of a pedigree writer, Sarah Walton shows how we got here and the wonders, beliefs and wit we have left behind forever. --Jose Luis de Juan - author of THIS BREATHING WORLD
IN THIS novel, Sarah Walton comprehensively excavates the sights, disputes and social structures of the port of Alexandria in the quarter century leading up to the inter-faith massacres and wholesale destruction of the city's famous library by Nicene Christian mobs in 391 AD. In doing so, she reveals the loosening threads of a society once renowned for its tolerance, dissent and learning through the interlinked voices of three characters. The publishers compare Walton's work to the novels of Mary Renault and, while that is partly true, in her remarkably adroit handling of the intersections between the big questions of faith and politics and the smaller-scale concerns of relationships and identity, there are elements that would not be out of place in novels by Gore Vidal set in the classical era. Highly recommended. --Morning Star - Paul Simon
About the Author
Sarah Walton was born in 70s London. In the 80s she partied. In the 90s she partied harder, studied literature in France and Spain, founded a dot.com and went to Silicon Valley. A bump on the head wiped out a few years. Sarah advises governments and businesses on digital. She has also been a creative writing tutor at the University of Hull, club VJ, designer, dancer, programmer and the worst waitress in the world. She threw away her first novel as she thought it was rubbish. Busy writing a new psychic mystery novel, Sarah has a PhD in Creative Writing. She lives on the edge of the South Downs with two Italian greyhounds.
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the story is told in fist person, present tense from the viewpoint of three characters, Rufius, Aeson and a disabled girl, Kiya - one chapter each. Ms Walton has obviously thoroughly reserched her subject and conveys the conditions, traditions and mores of the period as well as any history book ever could.
i have just two, very minor, quibbles with this book. Firstly it meanders a little and spends too much time 'scene setting' so that at times it feels more like a Mary Beard documentary than a work of fiction. And I'm far from convinced that first person, present tense adds anything to the story or the telling that, say, first (or even third_ person past would not and it feels, at times that the author has had to contort the language to keep the tenses consistent.
But well worth a read.
Rufius is a cinaedus who is constantly worried about his eyebrows slipping off. A cinaedus is someone who bends over for it, nudge nudge and could be executed for doing so in Rome from where Rufius has been expelled by the Archbishop. In quite a nice way it seems as he is being sent to be the Director of the Scriptorium in Alexandra in charge of keeping and copying vast amounts of manuscripts.
Among these is the Book of Wisdom anxiously guarded by Kiya who is almost as limbless as the snake that coils itself around her neck.
Aeson is the boy who Rufius takes as a lover and eventually adopts as his son when the beard on his chin forbids the participation in unnatural activity.
The book takes place over a few decades from Aeson's birth when he is offered up to the god Serapis.He is sent away for almost a decade for his safety partly to keep him away from an army of lost youths who pop up amongst the scenes of palaces, riverside mansions and sordid bordellos. Sometimes the writing describes delightful vignettes as if we are visiting a pop up Pollock’s toy theatre. At other times extravagant depictions of daring doos are worthy of the cast and cinematography of a Cecil B Demille movie.
I didn’t want it to end but after the fires, the smashing of the statues and the destruction of the Serapeum I was pleasantly relieved that Walton has Aeson and Rufius rowed out into the ocean after a hiccough or two. The Director of the Scriptorium is no longer swathed in jewels and fine fabrics but draped in a fish sack. The two have lost much but are the stronger for it. The prediction that the Temple of Serapis will fall comes true but the Book of Wisdom survives and in fact turned up in the British Museum in the nineteenth century.
Sarah Walton’s book turns Roman fact into British fiction. You will find yourself sniffing at the sandals of Greek and Roman history without having to bend over for it.
Extensive historical research, veiled in the backdrop of the story, transports the reader through time and the supporting cast of monks, thieves, ruffians & slaves gives plenty of characters to ride with in this action-packed story.