Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ridiculous Reviewers On Amazon: One Star Review for I, Claudius by Robert Graves

I, Claudius From the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius Born 10 B.C. Murdered and Deified A.D. 54 (Vintage International)I first read I, Claudius in May of 2008 and I enjoyed it a great deal. Here's what I said about it then: "It's a great novel. It's the story of Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus (called Claudius), a crippled, stuttering member of Rome's royal family who survives several increasingly evil emperors to ascend to the throne himself. Part history, part family epic, part philosophical exploration of History and historians, it's well written, profound and fun to read. I love the way that Graves paints the reality of a culture that deifies its ruler."

The Modern Library put this book in the top 100 best novels of all time, and while I have some strong disagreements with the list, I have to say that I, Claudius is nevertheless a fine novel.

But even the best novels are open to critique. Let's see what our cranky fellow citizens of Amazonia have to say. This week's Ridiculous Reviewer provides us with a very serious flaw in the novel. Enjoy.

1.0 out of 5 stars I, Claudius, April 5, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: I, Claudius From the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius Born 10 B.C. Murdered and Deified A.D. 54 (Vintage International) (Paperback)
This book is so self-conscious and self-aware, one has to wonder whether the author is not more taken with himself than interested in writing a novel for others to enjoy. Way too cutesy for me.I did not like this book at all.
I would have much preferred the author just write a nice, deep, rich biography or even a third-person historical novel, perhaps with footnotes or indexed research notes. The first-person mechanism is highly overused, to the point of abuse. There appears to have been a great deal of research that went into this book, but because of the tone and style, the reader cannot determine or make an assessment as to whether the material is fact or fiction, or merely self-serving attempts to appear clever. The heavy-handed overused literary device severely detracts from the good qualities of the book, which are: good story, interesting historical period, insight into times and lifestyles of long ago, and occasional easy flow of language.
This is one book I would not recommend. 

So. This book has a good story, is interesting and insightful, and flows well. It's main problem is that it is (gasp) written in first person. As is, for instance, the reviewer's review. As is, for instance, other cutesy novels like Lolita, The Catcher in the Rye and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Runner up (who I just couldn't bear to publicly shame because he said in his review that he's a high schooler) was a young man who said, "I cannot say that this book is good because lying is a sin and I don't want to go to Hell." Where, no doubt, he would be forced to read classic literature.

Thank you, one star reviewers, for your entertaining insights into great novels.


  1. Matt, I haven't read I, Claudius yet, but I will based on your recommendation. I was drawn from your Twit to the blog because I so enjoyed the televised version of I, Claudius (BBC production, I believe) mini series that was broadcast on PBS, originally in the late 70's or 80's. It was and is one of the best television productions I have ever enjoyed. I recenty discovered it is offered on DVD by Netflix. I highly recommend it!

    One caveat, it is not suitable for younger children and would apropriately be rated "R". It contains nudity, sexual content and coarse language. It depicts the Roman Emire in it's decline. It was a time of excess and debauchery.

    The production features Derek Jacoby, a great ator, in the role of Claudius. His portrayal is spectacular!

  2. Thanks, Steve! I've often debated picking up the television series, and now I think I will!

  3. I first saw this excellent magnum opus mini-series of I, Claudius on PBS in the 80's. I was going through my "crazy Roman dictators" phase at the time, as most young high school teen boys do! :) So I second Steve's recommendation! It's faithfull to the book.