The Confessions of Nero by Margaret George
Series: Nero #1
Published by Berkley Books
Pub Date: March 7, 2017
Format: e-arc | Source: NetGalley
Genres: adult, historical fiction
PLOT SYNOPSISTHE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO takes readers through the early life of Rome’s infamous Nero. Through the machinations of his mother, Agrippina the Younger, Nero became emperor at the age of sixteen, the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. But the road was a frightening one. The young boy, an intelligent, sensitive and watchful child, had a series of psychological shocks from an early age. His cruel uncle Caligula and his scheming cousin Messalina threatened his life, and his domineering and ambitious mother Agrippina married and poisoned two men en route to securing the throne for her son. Agrippina viewed Nero’s power as an extension of her own will. But once on the throne—like the teenage boy he was—Nero did not want to take orders from his mother. Soon the world was not big enough for the two of them. Thereafter he was remembered as a hedonist and tyrant who “fiddled” while his people burned. But the truth behind the caricature, revealed here, shows Nero to be instead a product of his mother’s relentless ambition, and the incest, violence, luxury, and intrigue that have gripped Rome’s seat of power for generations.AUTHOR BIOMargaret George is the author of the bestselling Autobiography of Henry VIII; Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles; The Memoirs of Cleopatra; and Mary, Called Magdalene.
I discovered Margaret George’s book Mary, Called Magdalene in high school and continued my love of her books after college with The Memoirs of Cleopatra and Helen of Troy. I loved the way she was able to bring the Ancient World to life while making the characters and their lives feel immediate and knowable. You could recognize common struggles in their extraordinary lives. So I was extremely excited when she announced a new book on the Roman Emperor Nero. While it did not become a new favorite of mine, I enjoyed the panache that George brought to yet another celebrated & controversial historical figure.
Even though the attention to detail is immense, Margaret George’s writing style is compulsively readable and keeps you turning the pages. I would get lost in the scenery of the Roman countryside, the smells of the food, the luxury of the palaces. It was all so easy to see in my mind’s eye. I struggled with the narrative style, though, the looking backward aspect. In theory it takes away some of the narrative urgency because you know that this character survives whatever tribulations are mentioned up until the point he/she is telling the story. In this case, that didn’t bother me or alleviate the tension.
For me, it was the amount of recall and the mature voice given to a child that was hard to believe. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect a 4 year old to remember as much detail as Nero did and it made it difficult to remember how old he was at certain parts of the story, or indeed what year it was. So that distracted me. I also felt some distance from the characters themselves but overall I enjoyed learning about a historical figure I didn’t know much about previously. I also really appreciate the lengths George has gone to carefully reconstruct this newer image of Nero, to look beyond the sensationalized for the human underneath. She gives him motives and fears as well as passions that seem to directly correlate to choices he makes in the future, and it paints a fuller picture of a controversial man. I’ll look forward to the conclusion in part 2!
If you enjoy Roman history or even historical fiction in general, this book is worth giving a try. The details overwhelm at times but help paint this amazing image of a long-past world and a very interesting historical figure. Here is a video courtesy of Berkley Books, of Margaret George discussing Nero and the defining moments of his life.