Attis by Tom Holland

I’ve just finished reading Attis, by Tom Holland and I’m rather impressed and a little enchanted. Attis is an intriguing and masterly blend of historical and fantasy fiction in which the Late Roman Republic of Catullus is transformed into a nebulously modern-day city, in which Pompey as President and Clodius as aristocrat turned union leader are facing each other in a conflict which is endangering the stability of Rome. Actual familiar events of the period as well as familiar lines from the poet himself are skilfully transformed and interwoven into a context involving grotesque murders, strange deities and a background of military intervention in Circassia. At the heart of the story lies Catullus’ frustrated, burning love for Clodia, which gets the young archaeology graduate, just arrived in Rome into affairs of high politics and low skulduggery. The strange modern-day Rome is beautifully realised, but as a sort of dream-city of no time rather than made convincing as a concrete reality. The plot is somewhat convoluted and, at times, distinctly Kafkaesque and I was left with a feeling that much was still unexplained but also that a pervading air of mystery was part of the plan and very much part of the aesthetic. A strange and compelling work of fiction.

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