I admire Helen Dunmore's writing, having previously been very impressed by The Siege, so I was excited, when I discovered she'd written a novel about Catullus. I must say I was rather disappointed however, in particular by the portrayal of Clodia, Catullus' 'Lesbia'. The woman who dimly emerges seems to be constructed from misogynist tradition to the point that she is scarcely a recognisable or rational human being at all. Dunmore seems to have swallowed whole what Catullus and Cicero had to say about her, even removing her strength, wit and political sway.
This Clodia has a crazily obssessional, possibly unnatural relationship with her pet sparrow, she is a poet but admits herself, she is not much good, that she is better suited as an ornament. She probably had some part in her husband's death, for an unbelievably stupid reason. For all his complaints about her alleged infidelities, the poet Catullus claims to have loved Lesbia as a friend, appreciated her wit - it is hard to see why he would have loved this, not only wicked, but weak and seemingly witless woman. The long episode of the visit to the poisoner Gorgo has little point to it - it leads nowhere in terms of plot. I would have hoped for a more challengeing reading of tradition, it would have made for a more interesting book.