Familial mayhem in two volumes

Incest, filicide, mariticide, and all other sorts of parricide and scheming — and yet this novel is the opposite of riveting. To be honest, I’m not sure if I, Claudius can rightly be called a novel at all. It’s a bare bones rendering of events, dry as a 19th century history textbook.

Which is a great pity because there is plenty of good story material in there. What it needs though is dramatization. It needs someone like George R. R. Martin to rewrite the whole thing, to add flesh to those bare bones, and to make the reader care for all those suckers being poisoned, smothered, and starved to death by their next of kin. Graves doesn’t manage it. All he manages is a thorough and detailed information dump, with no emotions or character development. There is an advice commonly given to aspiring writers: do your research but don’t bother your readers with it. Clearly no one pointed it out to Robert Graves.

Of course it could be that the book has simply aged badly. After all, I, Claudius is almost a century old. That what readers in the thirties found captivating, might not necessarily satisfy contemporary tastes.

Personally, I find that if your novel requires a whole volume of introduction (which I, Claudius is — a long, long preface to Claudius the God), then there is something seriously wrong with your story structure. Please excuse my presumption, but had I been the editor who read Graves’ manuscript, I would have crossed out some eighty percent of the text and advised the author to develop the remaining twenty into a more compelling narrative.

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