A year or so ago, I was talking with a good friend who was never short of good book recommendations. He was often a very large signpost on my journey to various book discoveries, and a very reliable source of books that never failed to ensure I came away with a better understanding of the topic on which a book was written. It would be no surprise therefore to know that some of his previous recommendations have been Anthony Marra’s debut novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and Booker-shortlisted Mark Mulholland’s A Mad and Wonderful Thing.
What surprised me though was that as we sat on the veranda overlooking the beach, I glanced across to the table to see a book authored by Colleen McCullough. Stunned I immediately old him I hadn’t pegged him as a romance reader. He looked somewhat amused and then proceeded to tell me that her Masters of Rome series was one of the best epic historical novels he had ever read. “Don’t be deceived,” he said. “They are richly detailed, well researched depictions of the politics and intrigue of Ancient Rome and I consider them a must read.”
David Maclaine wrote in his review, “The key to McCullough’s success is the succession of great characters she creates. Decisive in her interpretation of well-known historical figures, she also brings to life an array of vivid female characters whose stories have been neglected in the short summaries of history as we know it.”
It is disappointing that the writer of the obituary in The Australian dismissed this great writer and her work, continuing the age old perception that only those women as beautiful and rich as Cleopatra are worthy of great reverence. No doubt their loss not ours.
As Maclaine writes, “The novels are not for those who like short, swift books centering on romance or action-packed adventure. They are at heart huge, rich political novels, treating in detail the inner workings of the Republic and the unceasing struggles of ambitious men to use its institutions to gain fame and fortune.”
Here are the seven novels in order of publication:
The First Man in Rome (1990)
The Grass Crown (1991)
Fortune’s Favorites (1993)
Caesar’s Women (1996)
The October Horse (2002)
Antony and Cleopatra (2007)