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Reading Gay Men’s Book Club


Review for

“The Charioteer” Mary Renault

At school I'd read some of Mary Renault's historical novels set in ancient Greece & even then thought they were unsophisticated fantasies for queens. From the name I assumed this was another - how wrong I was! To start with the unquestionable difference, it was contemporary when written, however exotically remote England in WW II seems now - where you could notice at 1st glance a man was a civilian (presumably almost every male in the right age range wore uniform at all times, but it had never occurred to me), where authority was taken far more seriously than it ever is nowadays, yet nobody worried about drinking & driving. My parents lived through it but to me it seems as alien as the Tudors. I was disconcerted too to read that she moved to South Africa to avoid prejudice - but apparently it was then a much more tolerant society than ours as far as sexuality went, and apartheid was not yet established. Anyway, this was apparently the book that established she could publish about men in love, and so enabled those Greek novels.

So that might have kept me interested by itself, but there was so much more. Some novels seem to be constructed to be "page-turners", with cliff-hangers and revelations coming up at every chapter-end. Not this, which read with all the inconsequentiality of real life, and I just didn't ever have a clue what might happen next - well, I certainly got the conclusion wrong. (I won't be more specific as I don't want to give too much away to anyone who proceeds to read it - as I recommend.)

So, a splendid period piece, probably without even meaning to be, a love story, a sensitive and plausible character study. Did I completely misjudge her later work? I think I should have another look - we tend not to read another book by an author we've already read, but there's no actual rule, and it would be a very different read - and I'm sure not as amazingly sexually explicit as it was to me as a schoolboy!

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