Good Reading : December January 2016
GOODREADINGMAGAZINE.COM.AU GOOD READING DECEMBER 2015 / JANUARY 2016 46 GENERAL FICTION WOM word of mouth RATINGS ★ ★ ★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★★ RG Dictator Robert Harris Dictator is Robert Harris’s third novel on Cicero, completing the story begun and continued in Imperium and Lustrum of the last 50 years or so of the Roman Republic. Dictator focuses on the ascendancy of Julius Caesar and the civil war that followed his assassination. Cicero is a promising vehicle for such a story because he knew all the major players and his life is extremely well documented. Much of his private correspondence was published dur ing or after his lifetime, as were many of his speeches, both legal and political. He also wrote extensively on philosophical and political subjects. Harris’s Cicero is seen from the perspective of his slave and later freedman Tiro, also a historical figure, who wrote a lost biography of his master and patron. Cicero is a curious figure, a ‘new man’ who advocated the interests of the old Roman aristocracy, a great wr iter and orator who wanted to be a politician but lacked a real power base. Harris’s Cicero is basically a decent chap, especially compared to the likes of Clodius and Mark Antony, but his preference for the nobility, while historically accurate, is not really explicated in a satisfying way. What Harris does capture well is Cicero’s propensity to change sides and his talent for rationalisation. In the end, of course, this proved a fatal ability. Harris has delivered a book about an atypical ancient protagonist which is faithful to the ancient sources. Cicero is not a warrior, an absolute ruler nor, thank heavens, an ancient detective. He is a politician, lawyer, family man and philosopher. This book does justice to his complexity. ★★★★ Hutchinson $32.99 Reviewed by Grant Hansen Landfalls Naomi J Williams In 1785 two ships left the town of Brest in north-west France under the command of Lapérouse, the French naval officer and explorer, for a voyage of scientific and geographic discovery. It would be a journey of nearly four years, sailing across two oceans and calling in to places such as Chile, Alaska, Russia and on to New Holland (the name that Abel Tasman applied to Australia). Not all the people in the places they visited were friendly. In a remote Alaskan bay there was a misunderstanding over beads, which the Europeans offered as gifts, and the sailors’ muskets were no help when the natives bombarded them with rocks as they tried to escape in their longboats. Along the way we meet the different characters on board and get to understand their hopes and fears. We watch Lapérouse’s frustration with his crew, his grief when he loses some of his men, and read the letters he sends to his deeply loved wife. This book is a little slow at the start; the ships had to be loaded and the important instruments placed aboard. But when they set sail, Naomi Williams weaves such an entrancing story around this historical voyage that the characters step out of history and become real. A map at the front of the book clearly shows this epic voyage from France to Botany Bay. I have always loved Australian history and have been fascinated by the few facts that I knew about Lapérouse reaching the Australian coastline. But this book opened up the whole wonderful but tragic story and gave me an insight into the courage of the men who sailed out, not knowing where they were going or if they would ever see their loved ones again. ★★★★ Little, Brown $29.99 Reviewed by Merle Morcom frustration with his crew, his grief when he loses some of his men, and read the letters he sends to his deeply loved wife. the ships had to be loaded and the important instruments placed aboard. But when they set sail, Naomi Williams weaves such an entrancing story around Dictator Robert Harris DCicero, completing the story begun and continued in the last 50 years or so of the Roman Republic.