This is one of the first books I picked up after my brainwave to put an alphabetised version of the 1001 books list on here so as to be able to easily check books when browsing and; as I read the blurb and got the sinking feeling it had always been there in my local library waiting to be discovered, I began to kick myself for my ‘genius’ decision. Memoirs of Hadrian is just that – the memoirs of the roman emperor Hadrian, riddled with illness and wishing to write his life story to his successor in his final days.
And so he does: and for 240 tedious pages we follow Hadrian from birth, through his early years and education and love of all things Greek to his time as a solider and his eventual succession to emperor. Needless to say I was not exactly enamoured with the book: I’ve actually been avoiding public transport as much as possible so as not to have to read it and I’ve gone through quite a number of books before finally sitting down to tackle this one. Actually the only thing that stopped me returning it swiftly after having read the opening chapter was the crushingly depressing thought that I’d otherwise have to revisit this book at some point in the future: the idea of being 50+ and having to read this was too pitiful to realise.
That’s not to say I spent the whole novel hating it: about 100 pages in I did become a little more interested but that didn’t last long. I’m not sure whether it was the backdrop of the ancient world or the narrative style or Hadrian himself (I suspect the latter) that made this so difficult for me to enjoy. The central characters are all lofty and aristocratic, as is Hadrian’s voice, which makes him hard to connect with (even more so if you have no interest in ancient Rome – although I had hoped that this book might spark something). Halfway through reading I looked up the author, Marguerite Yourcenar, and felt a bit guilty at how little I’d been enjoying it – I do feel like I’ve done her a disservice and wish that there was something else she’d written in the list so I could get a second chance to maybe enjoy something she’s written (for some reason I wouldn’t let this bad experience cloud my future judgement) but sadly not, so, for now, I’ll have to keep Memoirs of Hadrian as my only experience of her writing.