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1. The King Must Die: A Novel
2. Fire from Heaven
3. The Persian Boy
4. The Last of the Wine
5. The Praise Singer
6. The Alexander Trilogy
7. The King Must Die & The Bull
8. Funeral Games
9. The Nature of Alexander
10. The Mask of Apollo: A Novel
12. The Charioteer
13. The Bull from the Sea
15. The Friendly Young Ladies
16. Mary Renault: A Biography (A Harvest
18. Return to Night
19. Mary Renault (Twayne's English
20. The Hellenism of Mary Renault

1. The King Must Die: A Novel
by Mary Renault
Paperback: 338 Pages (1988-02-12)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$6.29
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0394751043
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
The story of the mythical hero Theseus, slayer of monsters, abductor of princesses and king of Athens. He emerges from these pages as a clearly defined personality; brave, aggressive and quick. The core of the story is Theseus' Cretan adventure. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (79)

3-0 out of 5 stars Review of Renault's 'The King Must Die'
Renault offers a slow, pensive biography of Theseus. I won't deny there are some stirring moments in this novel, but I insist that it is too reflective to get any real rises out of its reader. Moreover, I'm not sure that this thoughtful novel really has much to say. There are no strong centers of consideration in this work--no themes of the reader to latch on to. Overall, 'King' was a careful, sleepy retelling of the life of Theseus.

4-0 out of 5 stars The Bull Leapers' Revolt
"The King Must Die" by Mary Renault is an excellent read. At times, this historical novel of the ancient legendary (perhaps mythical, perhaps not) Greek hero Theseus becomes a magical page-turner, filled with excitement and adventure.

The reader learns the customs, mores, fears and joys of the people of various Greek cities in which Theseus lived during the few years of his young life covered in this novel.

One cannot help but be struck by how the unknown ruled the lives of ancient peoples, how they transformed the unknown into myths and superstitions to abate their fears, and how our own rituals and ridiculous Western religious rites eventually emerged from such human history - myth or not. Natural phenomena were seen as caused by angry (or happy) gods and goddesses, and how the barbaric ritual of the animal (and human) sacrifice gave strange power to the leaders of the ignorant. And yet, in Theseus, we see a young man who literally takes responsibility for his own life and fate, charging off into unknown situations with bravery and courage. The ever-active forces and counter-forces between mythology to explain the unknown and reality in dealing with life in the moment are what gives Renault's tale life and substance - and relevance today.

Even then-practiced and rather well-accepted homosexuality is treated with sensitivity by Renault (as she does in all of her works of ancient Greeks and modern Brits - see, "The Last of the Wine," and "The Charioteer" for examples, as well as her trilogy of Alexander the Great). "The King Must Die" is irredeemably heterosexual, make no mistake, with Theseus' development as a lover of women one of the central features of the story. Remember these works were all written by this Oxford-educated woman in the 1950s and 1960s.

It is gorgeously written, flows remarkably well from chapter to chapter, and makes this reader appreciate even more the role that the ancients played in the development of a civilized world. She certainly brings Theseus to life with exquisite detail and superior attention to even the smallest aspect of his surroundings, feelings and his exploits. He becomes a human before your very eyes.Some of her best passages describe the psychological states of the main characters, their coping mechanisms and the ways that they conquered their at-times overwhelming fears. And, there was always time for love.

I rate it a 4.4 or 4.5 on Amazon's 5 point scale, but round the rating down to a 4.0, despite enjoying it immensely. It's an interesting and fun read, educational and stimulating, full of color, liveliness and realistic people.

4-0 out of 5 stars Imaginative retelling
A very imaginative retelling of the Theseus and the Minotaur myth. I read it when I was visiting Crete, and it made my trip to Knossos more interesting.

5-0 out of 5 stars subtle, brilliant, highly recommended
Perhaps it's a bit late to respond to Mark H. Cohen's post, but in criticizing Renault's 'gibberish,' he unintentionally reveals his own lack of understanding of the book's main themes. Now I'll confess up front--I read this 30 years ago (like another writer) and it has resonated with me much of my life; I've re-read it from time to time, as I'm doing now. I'll not repeat what others have to say about the brilliant reconstruction and deconstruction of the Thesius legend, but rather add a couple of comments on criticism like Mr. Cohen's. First, Renault's writing is excellent (I speak as a professional and published writer), but it's also quite subtle. In keeping with her characters' own delicacy and subtlety (this is first person) she sometimes will dance around a delicate or outrageous act without saying it. As a reader, you have to be alert. To me, this is one of the great charms of her book.
Potential Spoiler alert!! **** NOw the above scene Mr. Cohen is referring to--he abandons Ariadne because she engages in the very violent, sexual Dionysian ritual (as is appropriate considering in the myth she later marries Bacchus). In the scene, if you recall, Theseus comes upon her, drunk and asleep after engaging in an orgy. Her mouth is covered in blood and there's something in her hand. Theseus wont' say what it is, only that it is this thing in her hand which makes him decide ot abandon her. You the reader must read between the lines and be active and alert. WHat she has in her hand is a severed penis. This is in keeping with the entire theme of hte book, The King Must Die--but in the Dionysian ritual, the king is killed and 'eaten' as well, literally. His blood is considered sacred. Theseus abandons her because it is completely impossible for their beliefs to be aligned. She is absolutely, in all respects, antithetical to his (in his point of view) disciplined, honorable, male based religion. This is an example of the sorts of things Mr. Cohen misses in his reading. As far as the 'annoying' mention of the plumbing, well, I can't answer to that--I never found her details irrelevant.
She is a writer of brilliance and subtlety and I highly recommend her.

5-0 out of 5 stars Splendid interpretation of the Theseus myth!
Mary Renault's style has been much imitated by authors of historical fiction, but never really matched. In this intelligent, fascinating, and entertaining retelling of the myth of the ancient Greek hero Theseus, Ms. Renault has taken a mythological figure and transformed him into an all-too-human youth, complete with the flaws, foibles, and passions of adolescence and young adulthood.

The narrative, which is delivered in the first person, begins with Theseus' childhood; as a fatherless boy, even though a member of a royal family, he faces the insecurity of knowing little about his roots and nothing about the identity of his father. Slight and relatively small in stature, he longs for the large, robust physique of a true "hero," and learns to compensate for his lack of size by the use of his keen intelligence and wit. As a young man, clever, aggressive, lusty, and quick-minded if slightly temperamental, he learns the identity of his father--the king of Athens--and travels to Athens to meet him, encountering numerous adventures along the way. The storyline of the traditional Theseus myth is followed, at least in principle: after being recognized by his father as his son and a prince of Athens, Theseus is chosen to accompany the group of boys and maidens demanded as tribute by the powerful ruler of Crete, King Minos. Once in Crete, the little band of Athenian captives is taken to the royal palace--the Labyrinth--where they are trained to become a team of bull-leapers, destined to perform the dangerous and popular sport before the royalty of Crete. The heir to King Minos' throne, known as the Minotaur, is not the half-man-half-bull of ancient myth but a hulking, arrogant and boorish fellow (a bully, not a bull) called Asterion who takes a dislike to the Athenian prince. While plotting to escape from Crete with his Athenian comrades, Theseus becomes the lover of the virginal but passionate Cretan princess Ariadne, and must face down Asterion the Minotaur before he can attempt a flight back to mainland Greece.

Ms. Renault's wonderful descriptive style makes the world of ancient, pre-classical, Bronze Age Greece come alive. The cultural differences between what are now regarded as different regions of the country are made vividly clear, particularly in her treatment of the "exotic" Cretan court. She exhibits her familiarity with Minoan art and dress of the period, and with the layout and decoration of the actual Labyrinth at Knossos (excavated in 1900 by Arthur Evans). Finally, her characters are imbued with distinct and often engaging personalities worthy of the reader's attention, and in Theseus we are given a delightful "mythic hero" of genuinely human proportions. ... Read more

2. Fire from Heaven
by Mary Renault
Paperback: 384 Pages (2002-06-11)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$8.72
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0375726829
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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“Written with her usual vigor and imagination...Mary Renault has a great talent.”–The New York Times Book Review

Alexander’s beauty, strength, and defiance were apparent from birth, but his boyhood honed those gifts into the makings of a king. His mother, Olympias, and his father, King Philip of Macedon, fought each other for their son’s loyalty, teaching Alexander politics and vengeance from the cradle. His love for the youth Hephaistion taught him trust, while Aristotle’s tutoring provoked his mind and Homer’s Iliad fueled his aspirations. Killing his first man in battle at the age of twelve, he became regent at sixteen and commander of Macedon’s cavalry at eighteen, so that by the time his father was murdered, Alexander’s skills had grown to match his fiery ambition. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (37)

4-0 out of 5 stars Review of Renault's 'Fire from Heaven'
I found this biographical fiction better than Renault's edition of the Thesiad, but still notably slow. Her attention to detail doesn't suit me, personally. I would prefer a shorter book with less time spent carefully decorating each scene--the history here is exciting enough. This is my main point. I'm not convinced 'Fire from Heaven' is any better than existing historical biographies of Alexander.

4-0 out of 5 stars Excellent Historical Referencing
This title incorporates a clearly and well-researched history of Alexander the Great's younger life, and then fills in the details we wish we knew. Although the novel reads quickly and excitingly, based entirely upon the scarce facts on Alexander's youth, it falls a bit short in a few places. Alexander's relationship with most of his peers is mostly discounted in order to write more about his friendship with Hephaestion, a friendship which is left enticingly platonic but with many not-so-gentle hints that there was much more to be told of them.

Personally I think that the storytelling fails here, because you don't get enough of either plot element. What you do get is a clear picture of Philip and Olympias as parents who have great love for their son, Olympias unfailingly so, but who cannot and will not love each other.

Some captivating scenes seem to have been adapted for Oliver Stone's 2004 film Alexander.

3-0 out of 5 stars Not totally for me, I guess
Fire From Heaven is the story of Alexander the Great, the legendary fourth-century BC king and emperor who succeeded after his father was killed. He had a short lifespan (he died at the age to 32), but he had an incredible life and career, which Mary Renault attempts to recreate in this novel.

Alexander in this novel seems much older than he really is; but that's because he's precocious. Alexander's a fascinating man, made even more fascinating my all that he accomplished in 33 years. Alexander is pretty much legendary, so Mary Renault was a bit ambitious in the writing of this novel.

I have to admit that I'm a bit out of my element here in terms of the historical period, since I don't read much fiction set in ancient Greece. But the historical detail is deeply evocative; King Phillip's court is beautifully rendered here. It's clear that Mary Renault really, really researched her subject matter before writing, and that she has a deep understanding of, and empathy for, Alexander. But most of the time the novel is very hard to read, and it took me a while to finish it.
I also have to admit that it took me a little while to get into this book; and Renault's prose style is a little unusual. In terms of the story, she does tend to jump around a lot, but not so much that it's glaringly obvious after a while. This is not my favorite work of historical fiction, but I'm willing to read more by Mary Renault at a later date, as I've heard her novels are fabulous.

4-0 out of 5 stars I really liked it
Great historical fiction. One must keep in mind that generally the farther back you go in history it becomes morefiction and less historical. However the character development is good and the story flows along nicely. The only thing that caused me to give it 4 instead of 5 is that she portrays him as being almost flawless.

4-0 out of 5 stars The Early Homosexual Life of Young Alexander the Great
"Fire from Heaven" may be Mary Renault's best work on Alexander the Great, and I enjoyed it almost as much as I did her other stories about young ancient Greek homosexual men in "Last of the Wine" and her flawed, but also great, gay coming of age story set in 1940's Britain, "The Charioteer." Renault excels in her uncanny ability to depict convincingly young gay boys and men and their developing, often difficult, lives of emerging knowledge and experienced about who they really are.One could also look to Andre Aciman's "Call Me by Your Name," for other excellent writing on this subject.

Despite her caveats about the disputed and never to be known actual facts about Alexander's homosexuality in her "Author's Note" at the end of the book, you'd never know Renault had any doubt about his being gay from Day 1. Her story boldly shows Alexander as homosexual even as a young boy, smiling coyly at a handsome envoy who came to visit King Philip, Alexander's father. Alexander's preference for the company of men is never hidden, and it blossoms in full force during his early teenage "friendship" with Hephaestion, the male who turns out to be his life-long lover and bed partner. They were partners in everything for 20 years.

Alexander, Renault writes, is precocious in just about every facet of his young life. His brilliance is not limited to how quickly he learned war games as a teenager or his ability to disappear into the wild and survive better than ever, but also in his "understanding" of people and the world around him.

Of course, down deep, Alexander is portrayed as a deadly, cold fish, a truly calculating strategist, whose ability to love anyone other than himself emerges only as a consequence of Hephaestion's handling of his emotions and blazing internal fire.Their courtship and early love life is the core of this story.

His mother, Olympias, is shown to be a vicious, selfish, scheming witch, and his father, King Philip, hardly is a person to admire, either. There's lots of war talk, war strategy, and war events. I found myself skipping over them to some extent, so that I did not lose the thread of the true story at hand: the love story of Alexander and Hephaestion. Steven Pressfield is a good alternate read for the wars stuff.

This is good historical fiction, with, of course, emphasis on "fiction."
... Read more

3. The Persian Boy
by Mary Renault
Paperback: 432 Pages (1988-02-12)
list price: US$15.95 -- used & new: US$6.99
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0394751019
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

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“It takes skill to depict, as Miss Renault has done, this half-man, half Courtesan who is so deeply in love with the warrior.”–The Atlantic Monthly

The Persian Boy traces the last years of Alexander’s life through the eyes of his lover, Bagoas. Abducted and gelded as a boy, Bagoas was sold as a courtesan to King Darius of Persia, but found freedom with Alexander after the Macedon army conquered his homeland. Their relationship sustains Alexander as he weathers assassination plots, the demands of two foreign wives, a sometimes-mutinous army, and his own ferocious temper. After Alexander’s mysterious death, we are left wondering if this Persian boy understood the great warrior and his ambitions better than anyone. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (78)

5-0 out of 5 stars my favorite love story
I read this in high school. I just read it again after 30 some years and it stands the test of time and aging. I just want them to go on loving each other forever.

5-0 out of 5 stars Hero Worship
My hero in life is Alexander the Great.He was a fearless warrior king who united the Eastern and Western World.My fascination with him has inspired the reading of several books of historical fiction.None compare with Mary Renault's well researched, lyrical and eerily detailed accounts of his life in her novels Fire From Heaven, The Persian Boy and Funeral Games.Though the language and ancient names can take a few chapters to get your tongue around once immersed Renault spins a world around you in a way that you'd swear she was witness to the events.
The Persian Boy is my favorite in the triad because it examines a unique time in Alexander's life.He and his life partner Hephaestion have an unbreakable bond and yet in Greek style he has taken a Persian Boy, Bagoas as a second lover.As fascinating as his adventures in the discovery of the East are the finely woven relations in this ancient love triangle between Alexander, Hephaestion and Bagoas.As one can imagine dating the King of the Known World at the time was ripe with both jealousy and love.A superb accomplishment and true labor of love.

5-0 out of 5 stars A nice complement to the first volume
This is an excellent book and a very good compliment to the first book in the trilogy. I'm looking forward to reading the third.

3-0 out of 5 stars The best thing ever to happen to Alexander the Great
The narrator of _The Persian Boy_ is Bagoas, once owned by Persian King Darius then later given to Alexander of Macedon, better known in history as Alexander the Great.Bagoas was granted to Alexander as a spoil of a battle won by Alexander.Bagoas is a eunuch, castrated as a young boy so that he would always retain his youthful beauty.

Bagoas becomes Alexander's lover, companion, and advisor, in as much as Bagoas becomes the one individual Alexander can always trust.If Alexander desired to hear the truth no matter what the consequences, he could always turn to Bagoas.In return, Bagoas who greatly needed affection could usually depend upon Alexander for this.A huge rivalry forms between Bagoas and Hephaiston, Alexander's long time lover.It says much about Bagoas that he respects Alexander's primary relationship and never acts to betray Hephaiston.Alexander marries Roxane, whom Alexander meets as one of the female dancers who perform for him.Despite his lack of interest in women, as ruler of Macedon and other areas, there is the necessity of providing an heir to the throne were Alexander to die.

Ms. Renault portrays Alexander as a very brave and loyal man, albeit a man with a huge temper.Alexander is also a heavy wine drinker, which later is a detriment to him.Alexander arranges for the granting of doweries to all the unmarried soldiers serving in his army.He also provides theatrical performances and funeral games for his men.Several very ornate funerals are portrayed in the book.Alexander also forms an alliance with the Persian leadership simply because Alexander grows to love the Persian people.We learn that Alexander has earned the love and loyalty of his men who wish to comfort Alexander during a particularly bad time for him.

While the book is an easy read, it is often rather a slow-going read.Several battles occur in which Alexander is involved, but Ms. Renault barely recounts these battles to the reader.We know that Alexander has taken part in these battles only because Alexander receives a rather nasty lance wound in one of them.All in all, _The Persian Boy_ succeeds more as history but disappoints as a work of action.

1-0 out of 5 stars I didn't like this book At ALL!
First of all, I could not identify with Bagoas. If I were castrated I would have wanted to kill myself.It gave me a feeling of disgust trying to read the sexual scenes.Why would a woman want to write about man-boy sex as though it were real love?I can't imagine.Man-boy love I can understand, but though it might involve admiration, I can not imagine it involving sexual desire.Ugh!Secondly, Alexander didn't come across to me as a real human being; he came across to me like one of those guys in one of the Harlequin romances, although as an unbelievable goody-goody.[...] Finally, I felt that I learned very little from this book as a 'historical' novel.After reading 150 pages, I decided there was no merit in reading any further.I decided to go to Wikipedia to look up about Alexander's homosexuality or bisexuality and it said that there was very little documentation of it, although it seemed surmisable that he was bisexual, that he loved women also, but that he was not highly sexed. [...] ... Read more

4. The Last of the Wine
by Mary Renault
Paperback: 400 Pages (2001-06)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$8.67
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0375726810
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
In The Last of the Wine, two young Athenians, Alexias and Lysis, compete in the palaestra, journey to the Olympic games, fight in the wars against Sparta, and study under Socrates. As their relationship develops, Renault expertly conveys Greek culture, showing the impact of this supreme philosopher whose influence spans epochs. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (48)

3-0 out of 5 stars Book needed better checkup before selling
The book was missing middle sections of at least one page that I can't imagine happening any way but in manufacturing. A piece of page was torn at the binding but only a three inch piece. All the page edges were complete. Weird! Also there were highlights and edge notes in pen. Not exceptable for a very good rating. Otherwise it's a great read!

4-0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written historical fiction
This beautifully written novel tells the story of Alexias, an Athenian youth coming of age during the final years of the Peloponnesian War, and his lifelong friendship/love affair with Lysis, an Athenian soldier. As Renault composes the tale of their relationship, she brings ancient Athens alive, providing enough detail to lend her setting the authenticity it needs. The narrative is at its best when it focuses on the development of Alexias' and Lysis' bond in all its dimensions--as mentor and pupil, as fellow soldiers and citizens, as friends, and as lovers. Renault tells their story with no apologies and depicts the customs of the times with great realism. Although her prose is never didactic, I learned much about Greek history while reading this novel; many historical figures--including Sokrates, Plato, Alkibiades, and Xenophon--figure prominently in the plot. The political circumstances in ancient Greece about which Renault writes serve as a metaphor for many of the political events occurring during the time when the novel was written (1956), notably McCarthyism and the Red Scare. Her depictions of war and Greek politics, however, do constitute the weaker portions of the narrative, and she sometimes meanders too long through her characters' discussions of philosophy and ethics. In spite of these occasional lapses, "The Last of the Wine" is a satisfying and well-written novel.

3-0 out of 5 stars Could have used good editing
I've loved all of Mary Renault's work until The Last of the Wine.While the story is nearly as compelling as the rest and she has a lovely use of language, the Arrow Books edition I bought is laced with spelling errors and the book needed far better editing than it received to make the story flow smoothly.

1-0 out of 5 stars Book review
We had to read this book in Sophmore English (circa 1977-78).In the entire sophmore class, only two people actually read the book from cover to cover; most of us never made it through the first chapter.First off, none of us could understand what this book was about, and second after the first few pages (I only got to 35 pages myself), it had undertones (overtones?) that could not be overcome, especially in a Catholic school.Thankfully, we never got tested on it.This book was trashed as soon as school was over for the year and if this book ever went out of print will be not a day too soon.

I do not know, as an adult, if any of us would "choose" to read it for pleasure.I think any book that was "required reading" sort of kills the pleasure of reading it again decades later for your own amusement.

5-0 out of 5 stars Normal Young Men in Ancient Greece
Keep in mind that this gorgeously written and touching story was first published in 1956 by Renault, an Oxford-educated British woman, dead now 25 years.

"Last of the Wine" is much more than a coming of age tale, as we like to call some of these stories nowadays. Far from it. Yes, it is a gay love story, sans sex, a subtle and timeless and accurately portrayed romance between 2 beautiful young men in 5th Century B.C. Greece - thus, before Alexander. There's a good bit of history and a lot of fun in meeting some of the incomparable ancients - an aging Socrates and a young Plato, and in hearing about others, Alkibiades, for one. If you manage to read Steven Pressfield and Renault, as well as others writing of this era, it all begins to make sense.

Renault seems magically to understand perfectly love in its deepest sense between men and those touchy human aspects of love between anyone: possessiveness, jealousy, soft adoration, absence and longing, and the overwhelming desire to spend all one's time with one's love, to say nothing of comfortable easy silences and shared thoughts.

The 2 primary characters, Alexis (the younger of the two by 6 years) and Lysis, are physical ideals and good to the core. They know how to enjoy the long-lost simple pleasures. I loved them both. She also grasps firmly the intricacies of family, of obligation and of the inevitable inscrutable conflict between father and son.

"Last of the Wine" is as contemporary as your latest e-mail exchange with your partner or offspring. She writes with finesse and profundity. Consider these excerpts.

Page 241. "It was a warm spring evening; one smelt the sea, and supper cooking on pinewood fires, and the scent of flowers upon the hillside; we sat in the doorway of our hut in the late sun, greeting friends as they passed."

Page 242. "The evening sun glowed like bronze upon the reed thatch of the roofs; here and there men were singing about the fires. I (Alexis) said in my heart, `Such things as these are the pleasures of manhood.'"

Page 243. "But we sat a little longer; for as the sun sank, the moon had risen. Her light had mixed with the afterglow, and the hill behind the city was the colour of skins of lions."

Page 244. "'Nothing will change, Alexis' (Lysis speaking). `No that is false; there is change wherever there is life.... But what kind of fool would plant an apple-slip, to cut it down at the season when the fruit is setting? Flowers you can get every year, but only with time the tree that shades your doorway and grows into the house with each year's sun and rain.'"As Adlai Stevenson once said, "Change is inevitable. Change for the better is a full-time job." These young men had a firm grasp on reality.

The story traces not only the rise of fledgling democracy but also its temporary demise. The build-up to Socrates' eventual murder by authorities fearful of his teachings is compelling. The end of the story is both uplifting and sad.

Renault's "Notes" at the end of the book are insightful, the "Chronology Table" is helpful, and the map of "Greece and the Aegean" is a good anchor for orienting yourself to political and physical geography.

Yes, it is fiction. Yes, the over-riding theme is a gay love story. And yes, it's enthralling and gracious.Relax into the story, flow with its pace, learn from it, and read it with unabashed pleasure. Forget the homophobe reviewers who are falsely "offended" by the story (after, of course, they knowingly have read every word!).
... Read more

5. The Praise Singer
by Mary Renault
Paperback: 256 Pages (2003-04-08)
list price: US$13.00 -- used & new: US$7.25
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0375714200
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

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In the story of the great lyric poet Simonides, Mary Renault brings alive a time in Greece when tyrants kept an unsteady rule and poetry, music, and royal patronage combined to produce a flowering of the arts.

Born into a stern farming family on the island of Keos, Simonides escapes his harsh childhood through a lucky apprenticeship with a renowned Ionian singer.As they travel through 5th century B.C. Greece, Simonides learns not only how to play the kithara and compose poetry, but also how to navigate the shifting alliances surrounding his rich patrons.He is witness to the Persian invasion of Ionia, to the decadent reign of the Samian pirate king Polykrates, and to the fall of the Pisistratids in the Athenian court.Along the way, he encounters artists, statesmen, athletes, thinkers, and lovers, including the likes of Pythagoras and Aischylos. Using the singer's unique perspective, Renault combines her vibrant imagination and her formidable knowledge of history to establish a sweeping, resilient vision of a golden century. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (11)

5-0 out of 5 stars ancient greece
Excellent book by Mary Renault on the society of ancient Greece. The society valued the histories of Greek heroesand gods told by poets via rote memorization similar to Homeric epics in a society just beginning to adopt the (newfangled) written word.The poet was attached to the courts of the time and witnessed the power struggles and abuses of power of the times-principally in Athens,the cultural center of Greece, particularly after the rise of Persia. The rulers in a sense collected the major praise singers for their courts to enhance their glory and sing the praises of the rulers(naturally) for which the poets were well paid and lived as house guests. In many ways the history is quite modern.Excellent book. highly recommended.

5-0 out of 5 stars thoughts and reappraisals over time
A brief comment in response to some reviewers who liked other of Mary Renault's historical novels, but didn't particularly like this one ... I first read this book when it came out, some time in the '80's, and wasn't especially taken with it.In the intervening 20 years, during which I have become a practicing poet and storyteller, my perceptions have changed: I now think it one her best, if not *the* best - subtle, insightful, and quotable - and am now on my third copy, having read the first two to pieces.

2-0 out of 5 stars freezing
I share many of Kris Dotto's opinions about this short novel by Ms Renault but I have some of my own to add.

The plot is strangely detached, far away, a sort of foreign dream told by a confused stranger. All the characters share the same trait: it is not that they are not well rounded, they are distant, someone you cannot care for. The story of Harmodios and Aristogeiton is cold, contrived, but even Simonides, the main hero, never really comes to life.

More than this, the writing is often very convoluted, rather unclear, sometimes even clumsy. Dialogues are often spoilt because it is not clear whom each line belongs to.

All in all, a work not worth the general praise Ms Renault always gets.

1-0 out of 5 stars HARD TO BELIEVE THIS IS AN M.R. BOOK
I love every book I've read of Mary Renault's, but I could not "get into" this book.The Praise Singer, though well written, is just soooo boring.There isn't one thing in the book that "grabbed me".It's hard for me to believe that it was written by the same author.Well, there are many giving it 4 or more stars, so I eagerly bought it.Disappointed, yes, but really just BORED.

5-0 out of 5 stars Mary Renault transports you to Ancient Greece
I must confess to being an ardent Renault partisan. You must therefore approach my review with skepticism, though I will attempt to win you over. I have read every one of Mary Renault's historical novels, some twice, as well as her nonfiction "The Nature of Alexander," and a competent biography about her (1993, by David Sweetman).

While the virtues of Renault's various historical novels naturally vary, they are, every one of them, of a quality deserving Amazon's five stars, meaning they are in the top 80 to 100% of available novels (to my understanding, that is the meaning of a system that rates from 1 to 5). I do not think it is fair to knock stars off the rating, just because you prefer another of her works. Instead, the rating should compare hers against all by other authors. When that is done, I fail to see how anything by Renault falls below the top 80%.

I do have my own favorites, but don't wish to prejudice the reader, because all of them are worth trying. Her fiction of Alexander (begin with Fire From Heaven) is so much better than others I have browsed in the bookstore, including one by an Italian prone to flowery, artificial sentiments.

If you want to be transported to Ancient Greece, you will find no better vehicle than Mary Renault, period. I have tried many other authors, and many of them fail to come close to Renault. Indeed you might be advised NOT to start reading Renault, because once you do, entire tribes of authors will fail to please you anymore. She sets the bar very high. Even Gore Vidal, another historical novelist, pales before Renault. She simply "gets" Ancient Greece like no one else does. She has the classic virtues, duty and decorum, and writes with authority as one who has burned the midnight oil studying the ancient works and getting inside the bones of the ancients.

The only author I have found to surpass Renault in historical fiction is Patrick O'Brian, but he deals with a different age, with high sea adventure in the British navy in the early 1800s. But it must be mentioned here, that Mary Renault was supplied manuscripts of the younger O'Brian, when he was coming up, and she warmly recommended him to her legion of fans; he returned the compliment. What could be more fitting, than for the two greatest historical novelists to be in a mutual admiration society? As publishers already arrange for the exchange of compliments, ideas, and research, I firmly believe that in the future, they must also arrange for the exchange of DNA. I can only speculate what kind of masterpieces their lovechild might have created. It is to be regretted by future generations that Mary Renault, as far as we know, never did procreate, although her books represent spiritual and intellectual children of sorts, as their influence will be felt for many hundreds of years, as they are classics of the English language.

The dollars you pay for any historical novel of Renault's will be amply rewarded. Choose the subject that interests you most, and buy with confidence. ... Read more

6. The Alexander Trilogy
by Mary Renault
Paperback: 880 Pages (1984)

Isbn: 0140068856
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7. The King Must Die & The Bull from the Sea
by Mary Renault
 Hardcover: 531 Pages (1998)
-- used & new: US$28.85
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1568658060
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Includes 3 novels: The Hour of the Drgon, The People of the Black Circle and Red Nails. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (1)

5-0 out of 5 stars My most reread historical fiction
Mary Renault's historical fiction books are classics. Good literature with a wonderful sense of metaphore. She stays very close to, then enhances, mythical "history." Character development is excellent and her style is descriptive, yet not with the overpowering self-indulgence of some modern authors that tends to get in the way of the story. Incidentally, the jacket art of this (these two)books suggests children's literature. It is not. ... Read more

8. Funeral Games
by Mary Renault
Paperback: 352 Pages (2002-06-11)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$10.05
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0375714197
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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“Renault’s best historical novel yet.... Every detail has solid historical testimony to support it.”–New York Review of Books

After Alexander’s death in 323 B.C .his only direct heirs were two unborn sons and a simpleton half-brother. Every long-simmering faction exploded into the vacuum of power. Wives, distant relatives, and generals all vied for the loyalty of the increasingly undisciplined Macedonian army. Most failed and were killed in the attempt. For no one possessed the leadership to keep the great empire from crumbling.But Alexander’s legend endured to spread into worlds he had seen only in dreams. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (20)

4-0 out of 5 stars Intriguing...
Pros:Interesting concept, a few well drawn characters, well written, suspenseful.

Cons:The character jumping is not Renault's best technique, doesn't work together as a whole.

This book is perhaps one of Renualt's more intriguing.At least it has a great many political conflicts and machinations and plots, all following Alexander's death.The omniscient third person point of view is certainly more suited to this type of book with all its twists and turns than it is to a book like "Fire from Heaven", but it still gives the story an oddly disjointed feeling.Renault excels when she focuses more closely on one character, though there are certainly some interesting figures in this book.It is nice to see more of the story from women's viewpoints as opposed to the last two books which were almost entirely about men.Eurydike, at least, is well drawn.

The book is well written as always.Amazingly, it doesn't seem to suffer despite the fact that the main character (Alexander) is dead.The book's ending seems appropriate, but also makes one wish that Renault would have developed the characters that had a personal connection with Alexander more fully rather than concentrating more on the characters of political importance.Renault is somewhat unable to tie up all her loose ends.

"Funeral Games" is a well written and in some places intriguing book, but it lacks a certain cohesiveness.4- stars.

3-0 out of 5 stars Renault Fails to Develop Exciting Women Characters
It is ironic and somewhat odd that it took me (a fast reader) a couple months to read the 330 pages of "Funeral Games" by Mary Renault, one of my favorite authors. There was no consistent "pace" in the story, though it was very well-written, as are all her novels. It was just "slow-to-even-slower." I would pick it up for lunch or late night reading, but I never got "into it."

For the longest time, I couldn't figure out why I was unable to become absorbed in what otherwise should have been a fascinating novel about the times and turmoil that followed the death of Alexander the Great. Then, I hit on the answer. This novel is populated mainly by women characters, many famous and notorious. Mary Renault doesn't "do" fictionalized historical women very well. In fact she "does" them poorly. All of the women in this story are shallow, simple, bitchy, evil and unappealing - in total contrast with the men, who, as typically drawn by Renault, are complex, fascinating, intelligent and even charismatic. (See "The Charioteer" and "The Persian Boy" for instance.)

The key woman in "Funeral Games" is Eurydike (a very interesting name indeed, considering that she is depicted as manly, asexual, and, quite probably, lesbian). She is not too bright, and, though scheming, aggressive and ambitious to a fault, ultimately fails at everything she attempts in her short life, often as a result of her own inability to foresee ordinary and predicable consequences to her plans and actions. Of her own marriage to Alexander's idiot half-brother, she felt it, "...a grotesque necessity..." (Page 193). That tells you everything you need to know. Indeed most of the key players seem to suffer from a short life --- typically ended via murder or some other dire end.

What resonates and subsequently saves the novel are the chaos and the frantic, deadly, vicious schemes by nearly everybody to fill the power vacuum left by the untimely death of Alexander at age 33. Even Alexander's mother, Olympias, connives to grab power one way or the other. The reader, by looking at the veritable parade of successors, some of whom last a mere year or two, is struck by the impossibility of filling Alexander's shoes. These "Games" verge on the laughable. Mind you, though, there is nothing even remotely resembling humor in this story.

Alexander's half-brother (who was forced to become King Philip III shortly after Alexander's death) is a pitiable figure, a simpleton who suffered form many sad congenital conditions, including epilepsy and mental retardation. Thus, he was easily manipulated by all, especially his new wife, Eurydike, and other handlers all of whom attempted control over his and their own destinies.Philip III is really the only sympathetic character in the entire book.

Mayhem, murder and death predominate as themes. Renault is good at describing horrifying death and dying scenes. They abound in this novel. The "Games" played, it seems, are not those euphoric athletic events envisioned by Alexander, but rather the ruthless, incessant and never-ending calculated and animalistic evil doings of the greedy successors-in-waiting to the power and glory that once was Alexander's. All fail. He remains King of Kings, God of Gods, and Man of Men.

4-0 out of 5 stars Depends on what you're looking for
I'm not aware of any other novel that deals with the subject of the Diadochi, so I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of "Funeral Games." In the end, however, it wasn't the masterpiece that other reviewers would have us believe it to be.

The story is that of the crisis of succession after the death of Alexander. It's approached from three main angles: the two pregnant wives that Alexander left behind and that of his half-whit brother. Each of them is thrown as pawns into a political chess-game which is beyond any of them. FG is tale of treachery, deception, and manipulation where death it the inevitable reward of the ambitious.

For me, the story gets bogged-down in the character development and the various inter-personal relationships. Sure, it's a style-thing and that's what some people enjoy, just not me. I would have preferred a more dynamic story. There is a rich and volatile period of history to work with here and I think this book could have been a lot more interesting.

Even though I didn't enjoy FG all that much, it is well-written generally. Basically, if you like Colleen McCullough (Masters of Rome series), then you'll probably like FG. If you prefer someone like Steven Pressfield, then you'll probably be bored with FG.

5-0 out of 5 stars Funeral Games
Excellencly done. Any negatives come from historical fidelity, The end of Alexander and his dream of total empire is laid out in all its messy conclusion. Well worth the read.

5-0 out of 5 stars Truly, Twilight of the Gods
The third bookof this magnificent retelling of the life and times of Alexander the Great focuses on the 8 years following his untimely death. It is said he left his far flung empire to "whoever is strongest" - some dozen noteworthies began contending for the succession, often by assasination of their peers, with labyrintine plots described in graphic detail. The action, enhanced by the tribal clan allegiances of Macedonia, was more Byzantine than that produced centuries later under the aegis of Constantinople, and truly illustrates the Greek conviction that the Gods despise hubris. This may well be the best historical fiction ever written.. ... Read more

9. The Nature of Alexander
by Mary Renault
Paperback: 276 Pages (1979-11-12)
list price: US$13.00 -- used & new: US$4.25
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 039473825X
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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The acclaimed biography of Alexander the Great. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (23)

5-0 out of 5 stars a worthy reading of Alexander
I prefer this over the Lane version.All the important stories are caprtured in the Alexander major biographies and this version is no different.The only difference is the 'in between' readability and interpretations for most readers interested in the life of Alexander.If you want to get into the weeds and compare the difference between Lane, Arrian and the others than have at it.If you want one readable version that captures the essense of Alexander with all the major events than this is the one for you.My reference point is as a Masters student in Ancient History and a career Army Officer.

5-0 out of 5 stars Amazing Guy
Where is Alexander when we need him...now!
After reading the big-long bio of Howard Hughes I'm thinking he may have been a reincarnation of Alexander.
Too bad the real story of this phenomenal person is not taught in schools, youth of today would be much inspired by the philosophy and life of Alexander.He was certainly one-of-a-kind.Compared to the vapid, lying, greedy "leaders" of today he truly was a "god".
After reading the the two novels about him, also by Mary Renault, this was a fitting end to my quest to know more about the Alexander that piqued my interest when I happened on Oliver Stone's interview talking about making the movie.
PS - anyone who sees the movie should watch the 'special feature' with Mr. Stone first, to really appreciate the scope of his endeavor and the importance of Alexander.Oh yeah...and read M.R.'s books too.

5-0 out of 5 stars Fire from Heaven
This is one of the many outstanding books written by Ms.Renault.She depicted Alexander as all of us would imagine him.Handsome, loving, fierce,mercyful and great.Although so many books have been written about Alexander,all in all we will never know if as a person he really indeed was that Great.

4-0 out of 5 stars Mary Renaults's Pet Alex
Mary Renault has always had a thing for Alexander.With her lesbian background in mid-century UK I guess this is not surprising.We have her to thank for much of the current fascination with Alexander's alleged homosexualty and such.This is a compelling work nonetheless, and while the bias and emphasis are obvious and perhaps a bit annoying at times, we can forgive Ms. Renault for being a bit over zealous in her passions.What she tries to do is provide a rationale for some of Alexander's actions.Sometimes she can be faulted for reading too much into what limited information we have on him.Still, this is a passionate look at the man and his times.There are many Alexander's for us to ponder.Perhaps because he was so many things to so many different people, and because of the limited documentation many scholars are free to pursue their own views on what he might have been.Mary Renault is no exception in this regard.To me Alexander is primarily the Great Captain of history.He was never defeated in battle, his conquests ranged far and wide, and his tactical abilities were supreme.He should be remembered for this brilliance as opposed to his sexual proclivities which are important only for those who have certain aggendas to pursue.True Alexander had many different sides to his character it seems, and his short but full life is packed with all sorts of fascinating events.His conquests can be divided into many distinct phases toward his character.Was Alexander a liberalizing influnence who spread Hellenism for the benefit of mankind, or just a thuggish tyrant who ran amok in the decadent Persian Empire.The verdict shall remain open on this and many other questions involving his life.For sure this is a very pro-Alex bio.Renault can see little wrong with even some of his most controversial actions.But her writing style is grand and elegant, and even if slanted, is perhaps no more so than some of the revivisionist bios we encounter today.Alexander shall forever suffer from extreme view points.The nature of his life and achievements seems to make this so even in our own time.Renault is good at possibly reading into his thought processes at certain key moments of his life, and she paints a compelling portrait of his sense of mystery and pathos which ultimately contributed to his demise as much as anything else might have in the end.

5-0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable read...
I'm one of the fortunate ones who have a hardback edition with the 4 page fold-out full color map of Alexander's travels (hehe).

Mary Reneaul has Alexander down pat, as far as I'm concerned.I admit I'm an Alexander enthusiast (pro-Alexander as opposed to, say, Bosworth's or Green's anti-Alexander).If you're from the anti- camp, you won't enjoy this book.

... Read more

10. The Mask of Apollo: A Novel
by Mary Renault
Paperback: 384 Pages (1988-02-12)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$5.65
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Asin: 0394751051
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Set in fourth-century B.C. Greece, The Mask of Apollo is narrated by Nikeratos, a tragic actor who takes with him on all his travels a gold mask of Apollo, a relic of the theater's golden age, which is now past. At first his mascot, the mask gradually becomes his conscience, and he refers to it his gravest decisions, when he finds himself at the center of a political crisis in which the philosopher Plato is also involved. Much of the action is set in Syracuse, where Plato's friend Dion is trying to persuade the young tyrant Dionysios the Younger to accept the rule of law. Through Nikeratos' eyes, the reader watches as the clash between the two looses all the pent-up violence in the city. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (17)

2-0 out of 5 stars the Mask of Apollo
After reading _The King Must Die_ and loving it, I picked up _The Mask of Apollo_, hoping for the same- I just couldn't get it to it. I found the plot too slow, and the characters unlovable. I would rather have read a non-fiction history of the time; this book just couldn't keep my interest, though I am interested in the history of the period. I haven't given up on Mary Renault - I plan to read _The Fire From Heaven_ soon.

5-0 out of 5 stars Passion, the Future and the Gods
There are three elements that make this a great novel.First is Renault's ingenious device to critique Plato and Dion through the eyes of an actor.Plato's greatest intellectual flaw, to many, is his devotion to logic at the expense of the passions.The actor, who earns his bread through the inspiration of passion, can see instantly the weaknesses and where they will ultimately lead.

Second, in this book more than any other, Renault makes you feel the presence of the gods.She does this with subtlely, and one is always left wondering whether Nikeratos the actor is imagining (or, indeed, scripting) the voice of Apollo coming from his mask.But in his heart the reader knows that the voice is genuine and that it always leads Nikeratos to his best self.

Third, this is the novel in which Renault really situates herself in a past, present and future.She even makes subtle jokes about it.(Nikeratos, in a fever, dreams of playing Hamlet -- although if you didn't know Hamlet you'd never get the joke.)In this novel, much more so than in those that preceded it, she makes up her mind that all Greek history leads to or from Alexander.This is the novel she wrote just before Fire From Heaven and she has already decided where she is going.

5-0 out of 5 stars Really breathes life into the ancient world
This was a beautifully written novel.The pervasiveness of homosexual relationships depicted in the story eloquently exposes our own society's morals as arbitrary.Our customs were not established at the dawn of time nor are they immutable as we might suppose.Also the gods were portrayed as spirtually significant powers that really shaped lives.I have thought of them as entertaining mythical fantasies and assumed that the ancients, at least the educated, did as well.But their gods were as powerful and real to them as our God is to us.The colorful caste of characters- Roman soldiers, Gauls, Sicilians, and a few famous figures - really brought the ancient Mediterrannean world to life in all its variety.

4-0 out of 5 stars "Mask" a fine depiction of the cult of personality
"The Mask of Apollo" is Mary Renault's warmest, friendliest book--and I don't say that lightly.While Renault wrote books that draw the reader into new worlds, few of her narrators have been what I'd consider ordinary people.While I would love to sit and chat with Alexander or Simonides, I'd probably get tongue-tied and die of embarrassment if I actually got the chance.Nikeratos the actor is a protagonist you can picture taking home for dinner and a beer.

Niko is an actor, reared to the craft from childhood, and the title of the book refers to an antique mask (Greek actors wore masks; none went barefaced on stage) of the god Apollo that he keeps at first for luck.Niko himself is a man who always seems to come out well of every situation; when the book opens, he is fatherless and working with a struggling troupe when his grace under pressure (Spartans are seen heading for the town he's in while he's acting in a play, and Niko continues acting to keep the crowd quiet) gives his career a boost.A rival's attempt to kill him some time later ends unsuccessfully, and this leads to his meeting with the man who becomes his hero and his shadow.

Dion of Syracuse, nephew to the tyrant Dionysius, is also a disciple of Plato.He is a Sicilian aristocrat, a man who seeks to lessen the tyrant's iron grip on the people of Sicily.Niko is awed by his presence and convictions, but clear-eyed when it comes to seeing how many of Dion's ideas--fed to him by Plato--will impact his craft and the society he moves in for the worst.Without ever saying so, Renault makes a stern criticism of Platonic philosophy, which is one of the beauties of the book.

The death of the first Dionysius and the ascendance of his son, the second Dionysius, are told by Niko in a voice by turns cynical and amused.Niko is a keen observer, and drops devastating sarcastic bombs with lethal accuracy.(His "toast" to Dion on discovering Plato's views on the theater is one explosive moment).But Dionysius II turns out to be worse than his father, and Niko finds himself supporting Dion even as he wonders if his friend and idol knows what he's getting into.The climax of the story shows Dion at the moment of his greatest glory--and Niko's wish for him is painful in its prescience.

"Mask's" central premise is how the powerful and the performers wear masks to woo an audience.Niko is fortunate; he knows when to woo and when to take the mask off and go home.Never taking his craft for granted, he not only likes his audiences, he understands them.Dion, on the other hand, sees himself as a liberator and teacher.His audience is the mob, and the mob are to be led like sheep.A man of dignity, Dion is willing to let the devotion of his people carry him to the highest rank, but once there he cannot take off his mask and stop playing the role he's set for himself.And so we wonder, who is more corrupt--the tyrant who crushes dissent with an iron fist, or the politician who promises freedom and then scrabbles for the safety promised by the tactics of the old regime?

Renault cannot resist tweaking the readers with the end of her book.Niko is nearing the twilight of his career when, after portraying Achilles, he is met backstage by a young prince from Macedon and his best friend.Alexander and Hephaistion make their first appearance, and Niko's sorrowful musing on what might have happened had Plato had Alexander instead of Dion to work with ends the book on a bittersweet note.

5-0 out of 5 stars Life as art and art as life
One of the things that make Mary Renault such a great historical novelist is that she opens doors you never thought existed and gets you wanting to explore and learn more. I had to read several Greek plays in high school but they were always kind of ho-hum until Renault brought them vibrantly to life in "The Mask of Apollo" in the character of Nikeratos, an Athenian actor in 4th-century BC Greece who learns his craft from the ground up and brings us onstage and backstage into his world of great drama.Nikeratos travels from Greece to Sicily and back, acting in plays by such immemorial dramatists as Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, and bringing life to his art and art into his life and the lives of those he interacts with.Parallel with the story of Nikeratos is the story of Dion of Syracuse, a real historical figure who successfully brought down the dictatorship of Dionysios the Younger, only to install his own dictatorship in its place."The Mask of Apollo" brings to life historical figures such as Plato, Aristotle, Speusippos (an enigmatic character I would have liked to know more of) and many others that we only read about in history texts, and makes them become real and personal.She also makes us live in ancient Syracuse with its sights and sounds, its political intrigues and dangers.(Contrary to what one reviewer said, however, Renault gave only one line in passing to the Athenian defeat at Syracuse during the Peloponnesian War and the tragic aftermath; that was treated at length in "The Last of the Wine" but not in this book.)After finishing this book, I headed straight to the bookstore for a good translation of "The Bacchae" by Euripides, which I'd never heard of before Renault relates how brilliantly Nikeratos acts the leading role, and devoured it at one sitting.Renault does her readers a double favor: she not only gives them a gem of a book, she sends them on a treasure hunt to find some more. ... Read more

Hardcover: 280 Pages (2001-05-01)
list price: US$44.95 -- used & new: US$22.99
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0826213227
Average Customer Review: 1.0 out of 5 stars
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Born Eileen Mary Challans in London in 1905, Mary Renault wrote six successful contemporary novels before turning to the historical fiction about ancient Greece for which she is best known. While Renault's novels are still highly regarded, her life and work have never been completely examined. Caroline Zilboorg seeks to remedy this in The Masks of Mary Renault by exploring Renault's identity as a gifted writer and a sexual woman in a society in which neither of these identities was clear or easy.

Although Renault's life was anything but ordinary, this fact has often been obscured by her writing. The daughter of a doctor, she grew up comfortably and attended a boarding school in Bristol. She received a degree in English from St. Hugh's College in Oxford in 1928, but she chose not to pursue an academic career. Instead, she decided to attend the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford, where she trained to be a nurse. With the outbreak of the Second World War, she was assigned to the Winford Emergency Hospital in Bristol and briefly worked with Dunkirk evacuees. She went on to work in the Radcliffe Infirmary's brain surgery ward and was there until 1945.

It was during her nurse's training that Renault met Julie Mullard, who became her lifelong companion. This important lesbian relationship both resolved and posed many problems for Renault, not the least of which was how she was to write about issues at once intensely personal and socially challenging. In 1939, Renault published her first novel under a pseudonym in order to mask her identity. It was a time when she was struggling not only with her vocation (nursing and writing), but also with her sexual identity in the social and moral context of English life during the war.

In 1948, Renault left England with Mullard for South Africa and never returned. It was in South Africa that she made the shift from her early contemporary novels of manners to the mature historical novels of Hellenic life. The classical settings allowed Renault to mask material too explosive to deal with directly while simultaneously giving her an "academic" freedom to write about subjects vital to her—among them war, peace, career, women's roles, female and male homosexuality, and bisexuality.

Renault's reception complicates an understanding of her achievement, for she has a special status within the academic community, where she is both widely read and little written about. Her interest in sexuality and specifically in homosexuality and bisexuality, in fluid gender roles and identities, warrants a rereading and reevaluation of her work. Eloquently written and extensively researched, The Masks of Mary Renault will be of special value to anyone interested in women's studies or English literature.

... Read more

Customer Reviews (2)

1-0 out of 5 stars Literary Psychobabble
There's something about Mary that's clearly missing when a "literary" biography doesn't even contain complete listing of the subject's works, much less a synopsis of each that puts it into a context. Rather than follow the interwoven themes of Renault's work and her life in a logical and sequential manner, Zilboorg has compiled a collection of psychobabble essays rich with quotes from some of Renaults work, citations from other sources, and superficial observations straight from her own psyche.

I bought this book for an article I was working on to commemorate the 50th anniversary of "The Last of the Wine." It was a waste of my time and money. The only insight I got was into the state of academic writing at Cambridge these days.

Robbyh777 is as right today as he/she was five years ago... if you want an interesting and helpful biography of this remarkable writer, go to David Sweetman's "Mary Renault, A Biography." My apologies to anyone who bought this book between the time I did and my getting around to writing this.

1-0 out of 5 stars Caroline Zilboorg's Book "The Masks of Mary Renault"
After reading this book I must say that Ms. Zilboorg certainly has included much speculation and an active would-be psychologists' imagination. Unfortunately there isnot a clear grasp of her subject, and in fact there is much here that leads one astray from the real Mary Renault and her life.I cannot recommend this book to anyone who has a genuine appreciation for Ms. Renault, and urge those who do to persue the excellent and informative book"Mary Renault, A Biography",
by David Sweetman; someone who really 'knows' her. ... Read more

12. The Charioteer
by Mary Renault
 Unknown Binding: Pages (1961-01-01)

Asin: B0043ZBMMI
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (27)

5-0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Part of the Modernist Canon
This is the only work of Renault's I have ever read - it was assigned in an undergraduate gay & lesbian literature class. I found the characters superb, exquisitely developed, highly believable. Renault's prose is a mixture of romantic lyricism and modern experimentation. A wonderful, moving love story. Dense, but very highly recommended.

5-0 out of 5 stars A timeless classic of heartbreaking subtelty
This is, bar none, my favorite book. It must be; I've read it at least a dozen times over the years, and I walk away from it with something new each and every time.

Renault is a mistress of sublime subtlety, and she says as much through artistic uses of pauses and silence and the absence of words as she does with every finely-honed phrase. Each of her characters is beautifully human: Laurie, the frustrated invalid coming to terms with his identity and his emotions; Ralph, a man living a painfully British life "of quiet desperation;" Andrew, the innocent; the cagey yet well-meaning Alec; the immature and demanding Sandy; cruel and calculating Bunny... all of these characters and more are thrown together by fate and circumstance after the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940-- Britain's finest hour-- as they attempt to make sense of love and war.

The Charioteer is successful on every level-- as a brilliant piece of historical fiction, as poetic literature, as an etude on the themes of the Iliad, and, perhaps most importantly as a timeless story of love among the ruins and the power of hope ... It is truly an underrated masterpiece of 20th century fiction.

4-0 out of 5 stars Looking back on a distant, different gay reality
Mary Renault's The Charioteer is a partly-frosted window on a bygone time when homosexuality was "the love that dare not speak its name" in literature and real life. In lyrical prose she shares an engrossing story of three homosexual men interconnected by love yet experiencing extraordinary difficulty in their personal relationships. The raging Battle of Britain is only one of the sources of their troubles and not the most serious. Because the gay characters had not died by the end, the story was considered to be gay-positive for its time. A happy ending can be worked out by the alert reader, perhaps after a couple of re-reads.

Renault employs creative literary devices to espouse a truth that related in less evasive fiction might have been suppressed in the 1950's, when the novel was written. (It was published in the US in 1959.) She has a flair for the artful metaphor and prose pregnant with hidden meanings. The careful reader will discover the ellipses in her tale, and particularly her character portrayals. The narrative is littered with lacunae which must be puzzled out (among them what sexual interactions transpired.) One of the most apt and telling phrases that turns up is the "hairpin drop," now an obsolete concept. It means dropping a hint of one's homosexuality in a way that a straight person wouldn't pick up on, as of a time when being exposed as gay would ruin one's life. The hairpin drop is an equally serviceable metaphor for Renault's prose style. Even so, it is all done very tastefully and with great literary skill. British men of that age weren't expected to express their feelings except by indirection.

The vividness with which Renault portrays the burdens placed on her gay characters by the repressive society in which they were trapped cannot but distress the sensitive, 21st century reader. The characters are beaten down by homophobia, a force so pervasive that it seldom needs to be pointed out.In my view, the book fails as romance because it is much too realist, and reality for gays in the mid-twentieth century was insufferable.

The book received glowing reviews when it arrived in America in 1959, a little more than a decade after Gore Vidal had been shouted down for his unapologetic treatment of homosexuality in The City and the Pillar.It seems plausible that Renault's understated, elliptical storytelling style compromised in a way that made favorable reviews attainable. Unfortunately being well-attuned to the regressive intellectual sensibilities of the 50's puts the book at a disconnect with the 21st century. The Charioteer casts homosexuals as atomized, wounded individuals who find satisfying human relations only with the greatest difficulty, and at significant risk of bad things happening. The moral sometimes seems to be that gay men are their own worst enemies, albeit as a response to the hostile environment of that time.

The Charioteer discreetly succeeded in putting the case for gay liberation way ahead of its time. Consider Mary Renault's evocation of the idea of gay "pride," using that word, when her most insightful character makes a point by alluding to the prohibition of alcohol:

You can't make good wine in a bathtub in the cellar, you need sun and rain and fresh air, you need a pride in the job you can tell the world about. Only you can live without drink if you have to, but you can't live without love.

The pride this novel inspires comes in the realization that our movement has transformed the living conditions of LGBT people beyond all recognition since Stonewall. The Charioteer calls us to a history that makes the present all the more remarkable for how different it is.

3-0 out of 5 stars The Tragic Cost of Suppressed Love
It's true that this marvelously written story (though often a slow read) is ONE BIG TEASE!Even in 1941 the "hidden" gay subculture in England was more available and well-known and far less "swishy" than Renault needs you to believe in order to hook you. And hook you she does! But poor Laurie, though hungrily Yearning to do so for years and years, does not even kiss (fully platonically) another male until, what, page 200-something?

If you're prone to judge any/all books you read by today's "standards" of explicitness, directness and overt sexual detail please don't read this book and by all means do not criticize it by such guidelines. If you're "offended" by the normalization of gay male love, don't read this book, and by all means do not criticize it through that perspective. However, be sure to criticize it and react to it as a work of high literary value.But, please, all you homophobes out there simply zip your lips and keep your offended "sensibilities" to yourself. Let the rest of the world enjoy a moment of literary (if not cultural) sanity.

Laurie, the hero, is hardly a son I would ordinarily have been proud of. He's not very manly, really, though he's quite intellectual. He often seems to lack backbone. He takes eons to decide ANYTHING of importance. And when push comes to shove, he more often than not denies his nature and wimps out. Pity. When unleashed, his mean side is shocking, his words hurtful, and of course his conscience causes him regret and anguish. He doesn't like his nasty side, and it obviously is a self-loathing projected onto others. But, though slow on the "uptake of self-awareness" and even slower to act upon self-revelations when they knock him about in the head, he nonetheless becomes a rather lovable creature and a son to embrace.

Laurie also, for most of the book, has an unresolved and terrifyingly obvious and debilitating Oedipus complex.His thoroughly unlikable mother finally abandons him to a new husband late in the book, whereupon mere hours later, that very night, Laurie magically becomes an honest gay man, aged 23. His long-dominant complex vanishes (just like that!), thanks to one sensational night sleeping with Ralph, the anti-hero and main secondary character, the only guy who really and truly loves him.

What Renault, an Oxford-educated woman cannot do in this fine book published first in 1959 is --- get truly inside the head of a sexually conflicted young man (either Laurie, or Andrew, his secret love interest).Getting inside Ralph, who is a much less subtle personality, she succeeds.But Mary Renault is not a gay man, and like someone who has never been imprisoned for years and years, she simply is mentally unable to correctly depict with any thoroughness what actually goes on inside the imprisoned body and brain of a gay male who cannot, is not, and will not be open, whether 1941, 300 BC, or 2008.Only someone "who has been there" has this capacity.

But, the book is very good indeed!It's a wonderful, beautifully written tantalizing love story, giving readers a glimpse into Renault's view of an important subtext of 1940's British society. The war is merely a backdrop. The characters act out for her the awful truths about repression and suppression of self and the price all gay men everywhere in all eras pay for being people without full civil rights and true societal integration.

Some nice sentences include these: Page 100. "You looked too absorbed to be true."(That's Andrew speaking to Laurie.)Page 190. "For the first time he had a feeling of its being no longer in the background of his self-portrait." (That's Laurie thinking about his injured knee.)Page 191. "This grave moment gave to the smile that followed an irresistible sincerity."

I have one big complaint. I honestly did not understand the last 3 pages, when Laurie "returns" to Ralph. It seemed to me that she must have written the ending 10 times, and finally chose one version at random. Renault's metaphor of the pair of white and black horses, when she makes a final connection to the concept of "Charioteer," was too cute and too elusive to cause (in me anyway) a feeling of satisfaction on the last page of this otherwise fine novel. The finale was a huge let-down. So, not only for her consistent, unnecessary obtuseness throughout the novel, I rate this story a 3, because a) She failed to raise the gay characters sufficiently above stereotypes, and b) she simply could not write a satisfying ending.

5-0 out of 5 stars Renault is a true master of brilliant subtext
THE CHARIOTEER is the kind of storytelling that doesn't exist any more in the modern literary world. There's barely any plot, but instead an exploration of emotions, self-discovery, and desires.It's written in the style of utmost literary propriety, rather than that of modern colloquialism, which makes for lovely prose but a much more difficult read. I often found myself re-reading sentences two or three times to fully grasp the meaning.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it is set in England in 1940. Laurie is a 23-year-old soldier convalescing from a serious leg wound in a veteran's hospital. He befriends a young conscientious objector/pacifist/Quaker, Andrew, working there as an orderly. Laurie understands the sexual undercurrent of their friendship, but Andrew does not. Then through a circumstance of fate, an old school chum, Ralph, enters the picture. He's a naval captain who has just lost his command and is now part of a small clique of gay men, most for whom he feels contempt though he relies on their communal support. Ralph, who has developed a dependence on alcohol to counter the effects of the war, finds in Laurie a salvation, while Laurie finds his love divided between two men. One with whom that love can be fully realized, and the other which must be protected and kept chaste, lest it be destroyed.

What makes THE CHARIOTEER such a masterwork, is that Mary Renault found an ingenious way to infer a hidden meaning to so much of her text. As this was first published in 1953 when the literary world was not ready for full-on descriptions of homosexuality, I don't know whether she actually wrote more, and was censored by her superiors, or if she instinctively knew just how much she could get away with without crossing the line. A discerning reader can pick up all the little cues and know exactly what is missing.

The wonderful depth is all due to the character development. Laurie and Ralph are real-life human beings. Andrew less so, but that is because he is relegated to the supporting cast. Every bit of dialog, every physical movement, every thought (and there are some lovely flourishes of humor in Laurie's stray thoughts) plays to perfection without a single false note. The yearnings, fears, confusion and joys are absolutely genuine and I wouldn't trade a second of it for a slam-bang action-oriented plot.

For anyone professing to be a student of seminal gay fiction, or historical gay fiction, THE CHARIOTEER is imperative reading.
... Read more

13. The Bull from the Sea
by Mary Renault
 Paperback: Pages (1987)

Isbn: 0140034021
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (26)

5-0 out of 5 stars Great book
Bought this for my 12 year old son and his 20 year old brother started to read it and took it and The King Must Die back to college with him!Both said it is a great read as did I when I was in high school.

1-0 out of 5 stars Frequently referenced as the worst book I have/haven't read
I had to read it for a teacher with whom I otherwise had fairly comparable taste. To be honest, I couldn't get past about the first 30 pages. I found it downright unbearable. I just went back to the teacher and told her I couldn't bear to finish it and would gladly take the "no credit" for the assignment. I generally consider myself something of a bibliophile, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

To be more specific, this book suffers both thematically and stylistically. I found Renault's writing style horribly paced, erratic, and ultimately just dreadfully boring to those not having strict interest in the genre. In the first few pages, an epic progression of events gets condensed into a few pages, followed by a painfully slow dramatic moment. And from there, it just switched back and forth arbitrarily. Action, drama, drama, action, etcetera. The narration was incomprehensible at times, bogged in disjointed, esoteric prose. After maybe 10 pages, I just didn't care. The literary treatment of the events seemed to assume the reader saw and felt the same way as the author in each moment, which strikes me as narratively myopic.

I suppose I can give Renault credit for embracing the daunting task of writing mythologies from a modern perspective, but it doesn't excuse the failure of rising to the task. Ambition and passion for a subject without thoughtfulness and just well-constructed storytelling is just petulance. Perhaps it all came together later on in a way that garners the accolades of other reviewers, but I just couldn't continue.

5-0 out of 5 stars My favorite book ever
I read this - I dunno, 25 years ago? And I STILL think of this as the best single book I've ever read. Mary Renault has an insight into being human that no one else has, and she makes humanity beautiful, even in all its frailty. An amazing book.

3-0 out of 5 stars Not Free SF Reader
An older Theseus returns to Athens with his bull jumping mates.His father is dead, so this will now make him the ruler.However, he decides this will not preclude him from having further adventures if he wants, so he does so.

This leads to him finding the Amazons, and deciding that he really likes their boss, marries here.

Unfortunately, after this, Theseus has definite issues with wives becoming dead.

5-0 out of 5 stars another maserpiece for mary renault
The second Theseus novel truly reflects upon the first,"The King Must Die". In this book the king does die. The king within Theseus dies because of the grief that accompanies the loss of love. This book truly identifies with changes people go through(even the greatest people) when they experience tragedy and loss. The hopelessness and isolation experienced by the main charcter, Theseus, is touching in its humanity and compassion for human flaw, error and regret. ... Read more

by Mary Renault
Hardcover: 338 Pages (1958)

Asin: B000NWTZYM
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (2)

4-0 out of 5 stars Easy way to learn about Greek Mythology
A great novel to learn about Greek mythology without having to memorize so many names and places all at once.

4-0 out of 5 stars Ancient Greek myth revisited
A classic retelling of the classic myth of Theseus. Compelling and will inspire a love of all things Greek! ... Read more

15. The Friendly Young Ladies
by Mary Renault
Paperback: 304 Pages (2003-05-13)
list price: US$13.00 -- used & new: US$3.99
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Asin: 0375714219
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Set in 1937, The Friendly Young Ladies is a romantic comedy of off-Bloomsbury bohemia.Sheltered, naïve, and just eighteen, Elsie leaves the stifling environment of her parents’ home in Cornwall to seek out her sister, Leo, who had run away nine years earlier.She finds Leo sharing a houseboat, and a bed, with the beautiful, fair-haired Helen.While Elsie’s arrival seems innocent enough, it is the first of a series of events that will turn Helen and Leo’s contented life inside out.Soon a randy young doctor is chasing after all three women at once, a neighborly friendship begins to show an erotic tinge, and long-quiet ghosts from Leo’s past begin to surface.Before long, no one is sure just who feels what for whom.

Mary Renault wrote this delightfully provocative novel in the early 1940s, creating characters that are lighthearted, charming, and free-spirited partly in answer to the despair characteristic of Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness or Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour.The result is a witty and stylish story that offers exceptional insight into the world of upcoming writers and artists of in 1930s London, chronicling their rejection of society’s established sexual mores and their heroic pursuits of art and life.

... Read more

Customer Reviews (4)

3-0 out of 5 stars A for effort; C for execution; total, B-.
A basic rule of language is that substantives (verbs and nouns) govern modifiers (adjectives and adverbs).Why then do so few stories about homosexual people--even in these supposedly more enlightened times--depict them as people first?It seems as though most writers about homosexuality think of Gays and Lesbians as a separate species from 'normal', heterosexual people.Bad enough that such an attitude comes from heterosexual writers, but one finds it among gay and Lesbian writers, which is even worse

Elise is a not-too-bright girl, nearly 18 but acting more like 14; nowadays she'd probably be classified as having some sort of mild learning disability.She lives in Cornwall with her rather odious parents; some years before her older sister Leonore ran away from home and her parents consider her dead--she is never mentioned.Elise finally gets fed up, goes through her mother's private papers and finds Leonore's address, and runs away from home.

She finds Leonore living on a houseboat on the Thames, writing Western novels, living with a nurse turned medical illustrator.It is never said in so many words, but the two women are lovers.

Good points--Renault depicts the two women as just that, two women.She isn't interested in the political, economic, legal, or spiritual implications of Lesbianism--merely two human beings who care for one another, have built a life together, and who just happen to be both women.

Renault admits in her afterward that she wrote this as a reaction to Radclyffe Hall's infamous "The Well of Lonlness", which takes precisely the reverse tack.I am told by those who have read both that if one is familiar with "The Well" this is quite obvious, the way Renault sometimes parallel's Hall and sometimes inverts what Hall did.I've never read Hall, and have no desire to, and therefore cannot further comment on this point.

Unfortunately, none of the other characters feel real.We are told what they are thinking and feeling, but we are never shown.This was an early effort of Renault's, and she hadn't mastered the rule of "show, don't tell."Elsie, especially, never really comes to life.

Comparing this novel with Renault's mature work, especially "The Charioteer", one sees how far she came as a writer, and one also sees the seeds of her subsequent work.

The two afterwards are, as another reviewer remarked, almost worth the price of the book.I especially liked Renault's remark about how explicit erotic writing is the literary equivalent of ketchup--covering the deficiencies of insipid writing, and desired only by people whose taste buds are anesthetized.

4-0 out of 5 stars Suprising Fun -- if you just go with it
I read this book after being told Sarah Waters pilfered the charachters of Helen and Julia from "The Night Watch" from it. (To which I say, sort of, but with Waters, it's always more complex.)

The book starts slow. The first time I read it I skimmed the first 50 pages, covering a sweet, dull teen named Elsie. The book hits its stride when she runs away from home and to her sister Leo's home on the Thames. Leo's a 28 (?) year-old tomboy who writes cowboy novels under the pen name Tex O'Hara. Easygoing and cool, she whiles away her days with her girlfriend (take note, Night Watch readers - named Helen) on their little houseboat. The book is striking for its casual portrayal of the couple's lesbianism. It possesses a freedom and assurance that has not been doubled since. Nobody (thankfully) seems to give much of a damn about it - least of all the women themselves.

Renault throws in a twist with the sudden attraction between Leo and her male writing friend of many years, Joe. (She doesn't say it in the afterword but I suspect she did it to escape the censors banning her book like Radclyffe Hall's). But considering this book came out ONLY 15 YEARS after the soppish Well of Loneliness, it feels effervescent and postmodern. The ending is "silly," as Renault herself admitted, but this is still a cool, chill glass of the future. The afterword itself is worth the price of admission.

5-0 out of 5 stars Very Satisfying Read
This book is a favorite of mine.Its charm comes from youthful energy and emotional excess.The autobiographical element may account for the vivid setting on the river and the behavior of some of the characters.They seem like real people whom the author cannot control.They may confuse or annoy her (and the reader), but they are alive.
And then there is the love story. The friendship of two very likeable people unexpectedly intensifies, overwhelming both them and the reader. Very satisfying.
Mary Renault surely polished her craft over a long successful career, but this youthful effort has a spirit and immediacy that has held up remarkably well and still gives me a great deal of pleasure.

2-0 out of 5 stars Not one of Renault's best
This book is the most autobiographical that Mary wrote. I won't go into any explanation of this, but if you read one of the biographies about her life, you won't need my help to find the similarities.

A huge weakness I have discovered so far is excessive narration and explanation of each character's emotional state, a fault Mary generally avoids in later novels. I really didn't need a minute-by-minute update of Elsie's fears and anxieties. At first this was interesting, but rapidly becomes annoying and redundant, as the characters are ruled by pretty much the same thoughts throughout.

Mid-way through the book, I just gave up and quit. Elsie is a total bore, a silly timid girl scared of her own shadow. When I started skipping paragraphs describing her doings and thoughts, I realized the book had ceased to entertain or enlighten. Leo and Helen are more original, but Mary just doesn't give them enough play.

And for Chrissakes, let the characters speak, instead of modifying their every pronouncement with a description of their emotional state. Such as - "She said, without sincerity." Or, "She said, with trepidation."

You may want this book to see how a great author like Renault started out writing boners. Writing is damned difficult work, and the only way to get good is to just keep doing it over and over throughout the years. It is one skill that seems to improve with age, unlike everything else. ... Read more

16. Mary Renault: A Biography (A Harvest Book)
by David Sweetman
Paperback: 336 Pages (1994-07-15)
list price: US$18.00 -- used & new: US$2.95
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0156000601
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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The author of The Charioteer and The King Must Die, Renault studied at Oxford but eventually abandoned the academic world and England for South Africa, where she and her companion, Julie Mullard, remained. "A superb biography of an exceptional novelist" (New Yorker). Named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times. Index; photographs.
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Customer Reviews (7)

5-0 out of 5 stars A superb biography
I have read and enjoyed Mary Renault's novels of ancient Greece since The King Must Die: A Novel came out in 1958. It got me, like many other of her fans, into reading Greek history. I kept JB Bury's A HISTORY OF GREECE to the Death of Alexander the Great. on my bedside table for years as evening reading. Her other books as they came along, went into my library and have been reread over and over. I don't think anyone has touched her except Steven Pressfield and Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae. I have a few differences with the biographer. I started Charioteer but, perhaps because I am a flagrant heterosexual, I could not get interested. I began the novel assuming it was one of the Greek series. I do think that The Mask of Apollo: A Novel is a wonderful picture of homosexual love for heterosexuals. I can't think of another such sympathetic portrait for the general reader.

The biographer also describes The Praise Singer as an unsuccessful novel, coming as her last effort. I disagree and it is my favorite after The Mask of Apollo. The picture of her life with Julie and their experiences as nurses in England in the 1930s are very well done. Only in the novels of AJ Cronin is one likely to find such a good description of pre-war English medicine and the rather grim picture of nurses' lives in that era. I agree with one reviewer who laments the severe cuts in Last of the Wine. It's too bad a restored version could not be published.

I do take exception to one reviewer's criticism of her reaction to South African racial policies. She was a writer, not a political figure, and she did what she could to protest government policies. It is always easier to criticize from a distance. I also disagree with the review that said the biography was not very readable. I spent the weekend with it and did not put it down until it was finished. Her life was her own private affair but she did do as much as anyone could to reduce prejudice against homosexuals and to oppose Apartheid. Her fiction is another huge achievement. Hers was a very full life and the biography is a pleasure to read.

4-0 out of 5 stars a little disillusioned after the read
I have loved Mary Renault's historical novels about the ancient world since I was a pre-teen and read them today decades later. I was intrigued to see this biography on Amazon and ordered it....must say it was a bittersweet experience to find that a writer I have admired I cannot think of with the same level of admiration...

Sweetman's biography was insightful and gave the knowledge to flesh out what was only a vague skeleton of what I knew about Renault. Her early life was sad and corrosive and could have destroyed someone without her inner drive to be a writer...the fact that she was a lesbian was neither here nor there to me except that it too was a factor in her development as a person and writer...

What was certainly dismaying to me was her apparently inability or lack of desire to be very perceptive about the South Africa where she made her home for decades...Sweetman's explanation for her choices regarding which professional groups to belong to and her method of protest regarding the government's policy regarding the races might be truthful--that she had a distinct aversion to overt conflict and confrontation because of her parents' hostile marriage and the continual criticism her mother gave Renault from her birth onward. But for someone to be so alive and connect to the ancient world of Greece and so oblivious to the ancient worth of South Africa and its tribal cultures, is just a terrible and wasted irony.
If Renault had chosen to become involved and write with the same skill about African values and ancient culture that she chose to enliven her historical novels of ancient Greece, I imagine she could have been a significant factor in a struggle that is still taking place.

Sweetman attempts to deflect the bigoted and racist views that have perhaps attached themselves to Renault's lack of antipathy to the South African government, but to me it seems that she has a double standard of behavior--as most people do--and that she holds her characters to a higher standard than herself.While she could be very charitable and stauch supporter of those she genuinely cared about, her small inner circle was small for a reason. She did not go out of her way to develop or support a native South African voice and seemed to related everything through the eyes of her own European point of view....While she could enjoy the relatively rustic life style of Greece in the 40s, she never made the same attempt to get to know the people of South Africa in their own locals---not always because the govt prevented it either...

I was just disappointed to find her less than I hoped...although I don't imagine it will prevent me from enjoying her novels as much as I always have...

2-0 out of 5 stars Oddly unsatisfactory.
Just couldn't get into this book, especially written as it is by someone who knew Renault. No one admires the author more than I, and books like THE CHARIOTEER, THE LAST OF THE WINE and THE PERSIAN BOY have been for me jewels in the crown of life. So I looked forward to this biography as a tantalising mystery finally about to be solved--Renault unmasked at last! No, sorry, it just didn't happen for me. Sweetman seems fixated on Renault's sexuality, which I don't discount or revile from, but which to me is not the essence of her books, the thing that makes them great. So what is it that makes them great? Her intelligence! Renault is the most intelligent author I've ever read; intelligence seems to stream out everywhere, along with tastefullness and a wonderful compassion for humanity. And style! What a fabulous stylist! I can read and re-read her books endlessly just for the style, not to mention the insight, the fabulous observation of detail. These are the qualities I wanted to find out about. Who was this woman? How did she become such a great person and a great author? Well, I don't know because Sweetman's biography doesn't tell me. We get the facts, yes, especially about her lesbian relationship, and we discover some of her activities while writing the books, most notably a trip to Greece. But we discover almost nothing about her general opinions, her tastes, all those things one asks about in order to uncover a person. For instance I would have liked to know her opinion of some of the fine historical films emerging at the time she was writing her historical novels, most notably Ben-Hur and Spartacus. We hear that she quite liked Quo Vadis, but little information is given. And what music did she listen to (only the Caesar Franck sonata is mentioned)? What did she like to eat? There are a million questions, few of which Sweetman answers. And I miss any decent literary criticism. At one point Sweetman remarks that a certain editor seemed insensible of Renault's literary excellence, but then so does Sweetman himself given how few words he expends on it. How for instance did Renault developsuch a brilliantly unique style? I remember first reading THE LAST OF THE WINE (at 16) and being fascinated by a style unlike anything I'd ever encountered, a way of contructing sentences that seemed at once earthy and punchy and the height of elegance and sophistication. How did she come to this?
Well, no good ranting, I suppose. The book isn't bad, it just seems like a golden opportunity wasted. Obviously the definitive Renault biography has yet to be written--but I suspect it never will be simply because Renault didn't wish to be uncovered. Apparently Sweetman interviewed her in '82. I've never seen the interview, but I suspect she said very little of a personal nature. I suspect she made a point of throughout her life of saying little of a personal nature.

5-0 out of 5 stars nice bio
It is well-written, and easy to read.I especially appreciated the episodes and explanations of the circumstances, political movements, and her struggles which inspired Mary Renault to write each story.Now I understand how each story was created, and what was on her mind when she wrote them.
When I first read her , which is a remarkable book, one of her best, I couldn't understand why she didn't take more pages to write about Alkibiades and the defeat of the Athenian fleet.This is the kind of scene she normally takes time and writes in great, vivid details.It seemed so odd and out of her character that she just skimmed through it (although it still came out all right).I had to read it twice to understand what exactly happened, and even after I understood, I wasn't satisfied.
Well, the mystery was solved now that I know that the publishing company had forced her to eliminate so many pages, she had to cut out one-third of the book.That particular scene was the one that suffered.I don't blame her if she never forgave the publishing company.We the readers have been deprived a great deal.

I was also tickled to read that she had to let her secretary go because the secretary wanted to improve her grammar!

Her relationships with her parents, friends and her agents, editors, correspondents, and especially with her companion Julie are heart-warming.This biography brought her person alive and vivid, and now I can look at her works from another dimention.

4-0 out of 5 stars How Molly Challans Became Mary Renault
Mary Renault, with her delicate handling of alternative sexual interests, touched a chord in a lot of people, whatever their orientation.This is the story about how little Molly Challans (with her love of cowboys and books) because the best selling author of historical novels set in both Bronze age and Classical Greece, Mary Renault.

One might almost have predicted the loveless marriage that produced her.Her mother's least attractive qualities seem to resonate in the character of Olympias (Alexander the Great's mother)in her later series (written after her mother's death and final betrayal).The absent or ineffective fathers in her books reflect her other father's physical and emotional distance from his family.

And around her momentous events of the 20th century occur-- World War I and II, the rise of the Nationalist Party in South Africa, the liberalization of sexual mores in Britain and the United States, and the struggle against appartheid.

This linear story is probably where the reader should go who wants to know more concrete facts about Mary Renault's life (she pronounced it Ren-olt not like the car).The author at times dips into analysis but doesn't linger there.His main informant seems to have been Mary's lifelong companion, Julia and at times the book seems to be as much about Julia as Mary-- he notes at one point that a friend referred to them as M & J rather than separately.

I'm still waiting for the definitve evaluation of Renault's novels but until it arrives this book is well worth reading if at times a little on the thin side. ... Read more

by Renault Mary
 Hardcover: Pages (1962)
-- used & new: US$34.50
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: B000J4USWC
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18. Return to Night
by Mary Renault
 Hardcover: Pages (1987-06)
list price: US$30.95 -- used & new: US$30.95
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0884110737
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19. Mary Renault (Twayne's English Authors Series)
by Peter Wolfe
Hardcover: Pages (1969-05)
list price: US$11.50 -- used & new: US$86.47
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0805714588
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20. The Hellenism of Mary Renault (Crosscurrents/Modern Critiques)
by Associate Professor Bernard F. Dick Ph.D.
 Hardcover: 160 Pages (1972-10-01)
list price: US$6.95
Isbn: 0809305763
Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars
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Product Description

Best known for her historical novels—The Last of the Wine (1956), The King Must Die (1958), The Bull from the Sea (1962), The Mask of Apollo (1966), and Fire from Heaven (1969)—Mary Renault’s works have often appeared to readers as collateral reading to Greek literature. She is, doubtless, one of the most creative historical novelists of our era and the only bona fide Hellenist in twentieth-century fiction.


What is less well known is that Mary Renault’s earlier works, written between 1939 and 1953—among them Promise of Love (1939), Return to Night (1947), and The Charioteer (1953)—were con­temporary pieces, not concerned with antiquity. Covering the entire range of Miss Renault’s work, Bernard Dick’s pene­trating study analyzes the early works and shows they were filled with classical allusions and dominated by Greek ideals of friendship.

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Customer Reviews (1)

3-0 out of 5 stars Renault's early work explained
The book dissects Renault's novels (The Last of the Wine, The Charioteer, The King Must Die, Fire From Heaven) so that the reader might better understand the message put forth by each work.I concur with the author'sanalyses in general; it is clear he has given quite a bit of meaningfulthought to this.His is background well researched and his prosaic styleis palatable.I give this book 3 stars, as it is worth a read but is notparticularly revelatory. ... Read more

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