Synopses & Reviews
Based on the lives of Sir William Hamilton, his celebrated wife, Emma, and Lord Nelson, the young British admiral who was the greatest hero of the time, this novel is about revolution, nature, emotions, the condition of women, and above all, love. Sontag is the acclaimed author of AIDS and Its Metaphor.
"Tolstoy was a raging egoist, but in his fiction he deferred to the autonomy of his creations. Sontag may be the soul of modesty in herself, but her literary persona is much too self-important. Her characters are squeezed out to make room for her own insistent voice....It is interesting to compare The Volcano Lover with the triumph a few years ago of A.S. Byatt's Possession both books...measure a past era, in Byatt's case the Victorian age, against the values of today and to wonder why the one novel should succeed so much better than the other. One answer is that Byatt plunges exuberantly into her chosen period with love and admiration, while Sontag rises superior to hers." Richard Jenkyns, The New Republic
"The love affair of Emma Hamilton and the great British Admiral Horatio Nelson was a scandal in its time and has been a source of material for novelists, dramatists, and filmmakers ever since....In attempting a fresh look at this story in [this novel], Sontag is resourceful....Some of [her] generalizations are surprisingly shopworn, as when she observes that the difference between an age that idealized its heroes and our own preference for seeing them 'warts and all' is the result of our democratic dislike of 'feeling inferior.' Perhaps Sontag's most impressive achievement is the way she places events incontext: from the intimate drama of a love affair to the world-shaking crisesof human and natural history." Merle Rubin, The Christian Science Monitor
"Most of the fine pages of the book and there are some very fine ones concern collecting, which is to say the nature and value of art as it impinges on life. One could cite many examples....Impressive as the stylistic pyrotechnics become such as telling a bit of the story in Q&A format, or switching to narration in the second-person singular (though Michel Butor beat Miss Sontag to that one), or frequently playing with the hypnotic refrain of 'here' and 'there' from all that overreaching (not overachieving) the result is surfeit....The delirious use of anachronism, anachorism, prolepsis, hortatory analogy is likewise wearying. We tire of these foreshadowings, flashbacks, parallels, asides; we are blinded by such pennant-waving erudition, particularly when gross errors undercut our faith in the author's omniscience." John Simon, National Review
"The astringently intellectual Sontag here turns to lush historical romance based on the real-life triangle of Sir William Hamilton, his wife Emma, and Lord Nelson. The English ambassador to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the late 1700s, the Cavaliere is an exacting collector of antiquities and a frequent visitor to Mount Vesuvius. When his devoted wife Catherine dies, he becomes enamored of his nephew's beautiful if vulgar mistress. Emma gladly marries her benefactor but finds real love when heroic Lord Nelson visits Naples. The story starts slowly, and the Cavaliere's relation as collector to the collected Emma seems too obvious. But as Sontag warms to her subject, the novel becomes rich, expansive, and highly entertaining, right down to the slambang final chapters whose rapidly shifting voices suddenly provide new perspective. Hardly digressions, Sontag's many aesthetic speculations wonderfully enhance the plot. A fine novel of ideas, this is sure to please venturesome readers of historical romance as well."
Barbara Hoffert,Library Journal