Finding the Words

a blog devoted to the art, craft, and frustration of writing

Ah, how I do love thee, Mary Renault! August 10, 2007

Filed under: books 2007 — itsy @ 10:45 am

I know, I know, this is probably the third or fourth time I’ve raved about her. But I can’t help it. I just finished The Persian Boy, and her brilliance continues to haunt me. For the most part her prose is straightforward but every once in a while she throws in these gems.

Examples from The Persian Boy:

“He sat there, smiling over his wine with his clear blue eyes, his flaxen hair a little damp from the heat, turning the knife in my heart.”

“To honour the King, the ladies of the household would appear and dance. This was something indeed, in Sogdiana, where to look at their women is a matter for long knives.”

And…

“On the steeps below, where in sumer one would not have seen foothold for a rock-rabbit, winter had picked out in white the tiny ledges, or cracks that gashed the hills.”

I wonder if her books would be as popular now than they were then

I was a tad disappointed with the death of Hephaistion, which she treated very matter of factly, but given the personality of her main character, I think it worked. Esp. because Alexander’s death made me weep–I don’t think I could have tolerated two moments of sobbing, and drawing out Hephaistion’s death would have taken away from Alexander’s.

What strikes me most about this book is how brilliantly she manipulates emotional drama without making it maudlin. The main character Bagoas, in whose POV the book is told (in first person) is a deeply emotionally complex, imperfect character, and she does such a powerful and effective job of carving out his niche, what he wants and needs from Alexander, apart from what the Macedonians want, what the readers might want, or what morality might suggest is necessary. In other words, she never loses touch with her character, even if his resulting actions can be uncomfortable for the reader to accept.

What to read next? I think I should take a break from Renault, tempting as it is to read “Fire from Heaven” (the first in her Alexandriad, and the first book I would read of hers written in 3rd person POV), I don’t want to get saturated with her. Others have been raving about The Great Gatsby recently–perhaps I’ll revisit that book. I think it’s been 15 years since I last read it.