I recently started a book club with some friends in the area and this was the first book (and my pick) we read for fiction. This month is nonfiction, but I’ll review it next month.
Anyway, THE CONFESSIONS OF X by Suzanne M. Wolfe, is a beautiful historical fiction following the unnamed woman, who was St. Augustine’s concubine and bore him a son. We follow X from when she was born up to her gray years, when death is just around the corner. The book is rife with small homages to St. Augustine’s legacy, from philosophical leanings to the culture of Rome itself, but the book wrestles with X’s role in Augustine’s life and seeks to posit a warmer, but more ambiguous record of history.
To clarify, as Wolfe does in her author’s note, describing X as Augustine’s concubine is a misnomer. She is in reality, as Roman law and society worked, is his common law wife. Being of a lower class, X could never be anything more than that. This also highlights the painstakingly attention to historical detail Wolfe has taken with forming this book and it can be felt with every page. Her lovely prose is ripe with images and symbolism that rends the heart as we enter into the cruel fate that was dealt to X and Augustine. X’s particular experience as a woman during the height(and fall) of Rome is particularly interesting to hear, and in some ways disheartening that men can be so callous of women’s struggles. Monica, Augustine’s mother, was a particular bright spot and characterized very honestly and quite perfectly.
For those who know the story of St. Augustine (small spoilers here), this book does not take any true risks with the narrative, because Wolfe wanted to give proper attention to X’s story, so it may seem beat by beat. Yet, the story itself of X’s struggle of being of a lower class than Augustine, the great internal struggle that haunted the saint all his life, and the horror of their child’s early death are viscerally realized and gently stated all at once.
It has earned me to have a greater appreciation for my confirmation saint and it was so beautiful to read a story from another perspective and from a woman, who clearly (at least by Wolfe’s merits) loved the saint so much. Anyone who enjoys historical fiction, romance, or Christian Fiction in general will enjoy this lovely work.