The Confessions of X

The Confessions of XThe Confessions of X by Suzanne Wolfe
Genres: Historical Romance
Published by Thomas Nelson on January 26, 2016
Pages: 304

 

About The Confessions of X (from the back cover):
Before he became a father of the Christian Church, Augustine of Hippo loved a woman whose name has been lost to history. This is her story.

She met Augustine in Carthage when she was seventeen. She was the poor daughter of a mosaic-layer; he was a promising student and with a great career in the Roman Empire ahead of him. His brilliance and passion intoxicated her, but his social class would be forever beyond her reach. She became his concubine, and by the time he was forced to leave her, she was thirty years old and the mother of his son. And his Confessions show us that he never forgot her. She was the only woman he ever loved.

In a society in which classes rarely mingled on equal terms, and an unwed mother could lose her son to the burgeoning career of her ambitious lover, this anonymous woman was a first-hand witness to Augustine of Hippos’s anguished spiritual journey from religious cultist to the celebrated Christian saint and thinker.

Giving voice to one of history’s most mysterious women, The Confessions of X tells the story of Augustine of Hippo’s nameless lover, their relationship before his famous conversion, and her life after his rise to fame. A tale of womanhood, faith, and class at the end of antiquity, The Confessions of X is more than historical fiction . . . it is a timeless story of love and loss in the shadow of a theological giant.

She met Augustine in Carthage when she was just seventeen years old. She was the daughter of a mosaic-layer. He was a student and the heir to a fortune. They fell in love, despite her lower station and Augustine’s dreams of greatness. Their passion was strong, but the only position in his life that was available to her was as his concubine. When Augustine’s ambition and family compelled him to disown his relationship with the her, X was thrust into a devastating reality as she was torn from her son and sent away to her native Africa.

A reflection of what it means to love and lose, this novel paints a gripping and raw portrait of ancient culture, appealing to historical fiction fans while deftly exploring one woman’s search for identity and happiness within very limited circumstances. 

I cannot imagine how difficult The Confessions of X was to write.  To not even have a name for the historical character or any real idea as to her personality and attempt to create a story from very limited material has to be a challenge.  I certainly appreciate the hard work and dedication that must have went into this book.

I was drawn to The Confessions of X by the title and the cover art; both are mysterious and intriguing.

I was drawn to The Confessions of X by the title and the cover art; both are mysterious and intriguing.  However, I was a little concerned that it was categorized as romance, given my reluctance to pick up this genre.  Fortunately (for me), there is very little traditional romance in this book.  It is better categorized as a historical, relational, drama with a touch of romance.  Augustine and X’s relationship is told, but this is primarily the ‘autobiography’ of X.  Though their love is shown throughout most of the book, the focus is not about them becoming a couple, but rather how love affected and directed their actions.  As a result, I was very pleased with how their relationship was handled and developed.  For this type of story to really work though, the reader needs to like the characters involved—I did not.

I tried extremely hard to like X.  I mean really, really tried hard, but from the beginning of the book all throughout she just seemed distant.

I tried extremely hard to like X.  I mean really, really tried hard, but from the beginning of the book all throughout she just seemed distant.  Her emotions feel forced and often times her thoughts seem to say one thing, but convey something different.  Even in the opening chapter when the story is setup as a reflection of her life, some of the thoughts seem like insincere self-deprecation.  As the story progresses and she matures, she still seems childish and very self-focused. Part of the problem is as the narrator she is relating things that people say and feel about her, so it comes across at times as egotistical—like she is making a big deal out of her decisions and sacrifices.  I doubt the intent is to make her seem haughty, but where her decisions should seem humble and loving, they feel more prideful and with intent to build herself up.

I know very little about the historical Augustine, but I hope he was much more likable than the one in The Confessions of X.  He too comes across as selfish and immature.  While he’s supposed to be a great orator, I didn’t get a feel for his talents.  He doesn’t move or inspire with his dialogue.  In all fairness, this story is about X and most of what the reader sees of Augustine is prior to his conversion.  It’s quite possible that historically, young Augustine was not very likable.

In addition to not particularly caring for the characters, the environment is flat.  The city of Carthage and later Rome and Milan do not come alive.  I didn’t hear the people, feel the sea breeze, smell the filth, or imagine the hustle and bustle of ancient Carthage. Also, I was surprised by the lack of historical detail.  I realize there is a balance between history and fiction and a point in which too much historical information can bog down a story.  Unfortunately, there was too little detail in this book for me to completely understand parts of the story.  It wasn’t until the author notes that I better understood the issue with Augustine and X’s relationship or exactly what a concubine meant during that time period.  It’s addressed within the book, but somewhat glossed over.  Which is another issue I had with this book.  Transitions are a bit rough.  Scenes do not always flow smoothly and there are times when things tend to wander and then end abruptly.  I often found myself wanting more details and/or a more fleshed out event.

I like that the romance was light and the relationship the focus of this book.

While I don’t love X or Augustine, I adore their friend, Nebridius.  He is an awesome character.  From the first time he appears in X’s life to the end, I wanted only good things for him.  He is a ray of sunshine in this book and I wish there was a whole book dedicated just to him.

Even though I don’t love The Confessions of X, I do admire Suzanne Wolfe for taking on an incredibly difficult story.  I like that the romance was light and the relationship the focus of this book.  But I think it could have benefited from another hundred pages or so that filled in details and brought the reader more into the story.  Perhaps those more familiar with the time period or readers who know more about Augustine will not feel as distant from the story.  However, I wanted more and missed not having a truly immersive reading experience.

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