Bibliophile reviews The Emperor's Babe by Bernardine Evaristo

Year published: 2001
Genre: Verse fiction
Setting & time: London, second century A.D.

The second From the Stacks challenge book I finish.

The Story: Zuleika, daughter of Sudanese immigrants in Roman London, tells her story, all the way from a carefree childhood, to a marriage to a Roman senator at age 11, her friendships and empty life as a trophy wife, to her passionate and ill-fated romance with emperor Septimus Severus. Her affair with Severus is doomed from the start, but Zuleika regrets nothing and meets her fate with equanimity.

Technique and plot: The story is told in first person and written in blank verse. The style is snappy and inventive, mixing together Latin and modern slang, references to Londinium and people and events contemporary to Zuleika with references to modern people, places and events. There is wild humour, especially where her friend Venus is concerned, but also pathos and sorrow and everything inbetween. Whenever she describes intimacies or sex, the verses become more unstructured and flowing, suggesting that Zuleika really craves love above everything else.

The rhythm of the verses at their most snappy and slangy remind me sometimes of a rap song, and when most serious of something that could be recited to the accompaniment of classical music. It does not take long to get into the rhythm of the narrative, and Evaristo's inventiveness and way with words never ceases to entertain.

Rating: An entertaining and interesting look at human relationships and emotions, set forth in verse. 4 stars.


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