A darkly brilliant first novel that imagines a missing chapter in the life of Ovid. Why was Ovid, the most popular author of his day, banished to the edges of the Roman Empire? Why do only two lines survive of his play Medea, reputedly his most passionate work and perhaps his most Accomplished? Between the known details of the poet's life and these enigmas, Jane Alison has Interpolated a haunting drama of passion and psychological manipulation. On holiday at the Black Sea, on the fringes of the Empire, Ovid encounters an almost otherworldly woman who seems to embody the fictitious creations of his soon-to-be-published Metamorphoses. Part healer, part witch, she seems myth come to life. Enchanted and obsessed -- and, for the first time in a long while, flush with inspiration -- Ovid takes her back with him to Rome. But the inexorable pull of ambition leads him to make a Faustian bargain with fate that will betray his newfound muse. As the two of them become entangled in its snares, the reader is drawn deep into an ingeniously enacted meditation on love, art, and the desire for immortality.
Little is known about Ovid's life in exile in the first century A.D., and only two lines of his acclaimed Medea survive today. In this strong debut novel, Alison reimagines Ovid's sojourn on the east coast of the Black Sea, where Emperor Augustus, in the middle of a campaign to restore morality to his new empire, has banished the poet, displeased by the success of his Loves and The Art of Love. Here Ovid meets Xenia, a wild-eyed young woman who lives in isolation. The only literate person in her community, Xenia acts as town mystic, casting spells, healing the sick and telling futures. Ovid, who admits he believes in Amazons, with "their strong sweating thighs clutching galloping horses, wild howls coming from their parched, cracked mouths," is eager to be stunned by the "fishy, monstrous, unreal." He imagines the jealous, stormy Xenia to be his Galatea and sweeps her back to Rome, where she unwittingly becomes the muse for the lost Medea, his darkest work. From Alison's depiction of a trio of gossips at a patrician's dinner party, "dark eyes flying from one to the other like torches," to her description of an evening walk in Rome freighted with the knowledge that thousands of animals are "denned beneath the city's streets until they were let out, half starved, to devour terrified criminals or be speared in the emperor's shows," she demonstrates familiarity and ease with her subject; and her historic detail is never pedantic. Even those unfamiliar with Ovid and Roman history will delight in this tale of romantic intrigue, rife with blood, jealous rage and the consciousness of human frailty.