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The Charioteer

4.07  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,853 Ratings  ·  219 Reviews
After enduring an injury at Dunkirk during World War II, Laurie Odell is sent to a rural veterans’ hospital in England to convalesce. There he befriends the young, bright Andrew, a conscientious objector serving as an orderly. As they find solace and companionship together in the idyllic surroundings of the hospital, their friendship blooms into a discreet, chaste romance. ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published May 13th 2003 by Vintage (first published 1953)
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Best Gay Fiction
17th out of 1,340 books — 1,693 voters
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Best Gay Historical Fiction
5th out of 237 books — 323 voters

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Community Reviews

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My least favorite thing about this book reporting business is choosing the star rating. I seriously get ulcers trying to quantify my personal, subjective response to each book I've read. Was it just "okay"? Did I "like it" or "really like it"? Part of my problem is that I've resolved from the beginning to be incredibly stingy with my five-star ratings. I've only given five stars to books that I feel have affected my sense of self and relation to the world on some profound and fundamental level, ...more
Nov 08, 2015 julio rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
significantly excellent.

in some passages so stunningly real and identifiable i found myself experiencing things that had happened to me in nearly the same way, as if for the first time.

i feel like i already knew everyone i met in this book.

definitive. absolutely definitive.

discussion with author alexis hall:
Jan 30, 2008 Josh rated it it was amazing
Probably the single most influential book I ever read. Beautifully written, evocative, haunting, powerful.
Shame on me! When I first heard of Mary Renault and her gay novels, I immediately assumed that because they were written in the 1950’s and by a woman that they were bound to be bad. Shame, shame, shame!

I stand duly chastised. And somewhat in awe of Mary Renault. She really gets the whole living in fear and shame thing, the way it distorts your life, causes you to doubt yourself, the overly sensitive panic that “They” somehow know. She never comes out to hit us on the head with this. She just de
K.M. Soehnlein
Jul 13, 2013 K.M. Soehnlein rated it it was amazing
I knew nothing about this novel when I began reading it. By the time I was done, I was convinced it belonged near the top of the list of the best novels ever written about gay characters.

Mary Renault is known for her historical fiction set in ancient Greece, but The Charioteer takes place during World War II, mostly inside a British hospital where Laurie (Laurence), whose kneecap was blasted away at the Battle of Dunkirk, is recuperating. Laurie becomes enamored with a hospital orderly named An
Today, the social justice movement it is ever so chic to belong to is that of same sex marriage. Whether this will continue past the vanilla white male couple with a couple of white male kids, whether success on this front means a tackling of the trans panic (genocide) defense law in 49 of my 50 states, whether this sensationalized narrowing of all the discrimination, the dehumanization, and the murder of all those beyond the pale of hetero/cis/etc-normativity will go the way of eradication of U ...more
Podga Podga
May 31, 2012 Podga Podga rated it it was amazing
It's impossible for me to rate certain books objectively, because of the life-changing impact they had on me.

I read The Charioteer in 1976, when I was 13. I knew I was different, but not in a way that bore mentioning or even secret acknowledgement in the ulta-macho Greece of that time. The only gay man I was aware of was a guy, who sold feather dusters around the centre of Athens; he was campy, outspoken, mocked, and it scared me that I might be like him.

Even though I didn't understand all the
Jul 17, 2007 David rated it it was amazing
Shelves: top-20
Mary Renault is one of those authors for whom I was tempted to give 5 stars to all of her books, because I enjoyed them so much. But in the interests of maintaining standards (Hi Betsy!), I will give 5 stars to "The Charioteer", a book probably 50 years ahead of its time, but go ahead and recommend all of her historical fiction anyway. With perhaps "The Mask of Apollo" and "The King must Die" being my favorites among her remaining books.
Aug 13, 2009 Jenre rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
I bought this book after reading The Dark Horse by Josh Lanyon. In that story the main character is an actor who is hoping to be chosen for the role of Laurie in a film adaptation of "The Charioteer". The story draws some parallels between the characters of Sean and Dan in The Dark horse and Laurie and Ralph in The Charioteer. I thought that perhaps I ought to read The Charioteer, especially after Josh Lanyon has mentioned it quite a few times since as being a great book.

The book is set in the 2
Emanuela ~plastic duck~
Mar 11, 2012 Emanuela ~plastic duck~ rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics, glbt
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 11, 2010 Erastes rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gay-historical
It’s hard for me to do a review of this book for many reasons. It seems a bit cheeky for me to even try – and it’s been around for so long I would imagine that just about everyone I know has read it, but if this review tempts one person who hasn’t to give it a whirl, then I’ll have achieved something. So perhaps it’s less of a review and more of a personal rave. That I love it, is a given.

It’s a simple enough story on the surface. Laurie, young idealistic, attempts to defend Ralph, the head boy
Christy B
Sep 17, 2011 Christy B rated it it was amazing
My heart. Is it still there? Because I feel like someone tore it out and stomped on it.

I stayed up way later than I usually do, last night, to finish this, because I couldn't wait any longer. The intense and emotional turmoil inside of me started with Andrew's letter and followed through to the end.

It wasn't until I finished, and turned off the lights to go to sleep, that I realized what I had been holding in. And I cried for a few minutes: for the story, for the beautiful writing, for the chara
Aug 14, 2007 Falkor rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of romance, esp. male/male romance; people interested in pre-Stonewall gay life
Shelves: fiction, 20th-century
Laurie O'Dell is seriously wounded during the early days of World War II. While recuperating in an English hospital, he is entangled in a love triangle. On one side is Andrew, a pious, naive young conscientious objector who works in the hospital as an orderly; on the other is Ralph, an old school friend who, despite having many affairs with men and women while traveling the world in the navy, still harbors strong feelings for Laurie. Laurie is paralyzed with indecision. He can have a passionate ...more
Oct 28, 2008 Kristen rated it it was amazing
This is my all-time favorite book, for many reasons that are hard to explain. In the simplest terms, it's a love story set in England during WWII. I'd recommend it for anybody who a) enjoys literary fiction b) is socially open-minded and c) doesn't need to be hit over the head with plot developments.

Some people have said that Mary Renault is too reserved, or too subtle in her descriptions of a scene. But I think she was a genius at capturing the real, honest essence of people and relationships.
Jan 27, 2015 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
I knew I was gonna like this book a lot when I decided to read it, but I didn't know how much it was going to CONSUME MY LIFE for a few days (goodbye work ethic, but also why this is getting five stars rather than four).

The writing is absolutely exquisite. There were times when I put the book down and thought how much I loved the line I had just read. I had forgotten how much I miss this style of writing, that early 20th century British novelist writing that I read so much of in my adolescence
Oct 22, 2013 Adam rated it it was amazing
wow, what a find... being a fan of somerset maugham and oscar wilde, I found a lot of similarities, perhaps because of relationships that need to be read between the lines

this is a WWII gay love story triangle of three protagonist, laurie odell, ralph lanyon, and andrew raynes
in prep school laurie is given Plato's Phadrus by his superior, ralph, 3 years his senior, as a gift upon ralph's departure
mr. lanyon is being expelled because of an indiscretion with a younger student
by chapter three we f
Optimist ♰King's Wench♰ & MANTIES Champion
The Charioteer ~ Plato

…Let us say, then, that the soul resembles the joined powers of a pair of winged horses and a charioteer. Now the horses and drivers of the gods are of equal temper and breed, but with men it is otherwise… it sinks down in the midst of heaven, and returns to its own home. And there the charioteer leads his horses to the manger, and puts ambrosia before them, with nectar for their drink. Such is the life of the gods.

*Really helps to have some understanding of this allegory
Apr 19, 2010 Sophie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, lgbt, favorites
Oh dear god. I spent the last hour tearing frantically through the last 50 pages of Mary Renault's The Charioteer and now I'm so endlessly relieved, I have no words. I was actually sobbing just now because, god. This book.

This was so, so beautiful.

To think I might never have read it - I don't care how melodramatic it sounds, but I discovered this book by pure accident, because I was looking for stuff on Alexander the Great because I have been interested in Ancient Greek lately because I liked t
Aimee ~is busy sleeping~
100% update: This was one of the most difficult books I have ever had to go through-Thank gosh for the chapter by chapter discussions I found on LiveJournal, or else I probably would have given up. I was so utterly lost from a lot of the assumed knowledge of cultural slang and historical context. But. I was hanging on to every interaction, going back to reread and realize the subtle moments and meanings that were taking place that I had completely missed. Every slight touch or look stole my brea ...more
Oct 01, 2015 R.a. rated it it was amazing
4.75 stars

Can life be a blessing,
Or worth the possessing,
Can life be a blessing, if love were away?
Ah, no! though our love all night keep us waking,
And though he torment us with cares all the day,
Yet he sweetens, he sweetens our pains in the taking;
There’s an hour at the last, there’s an hour to repay.*

The just, the beautiful, and the good.
What “is” and what “is becoming.”

Love. Identity.

How a soul makes the “right” choice.
In life.
In love.

This is all.

This is all for Laurence, “Laurie,” Odell, 23,
Sep 10, 2014 Aitziber rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Nabokov fans
Recommended to Aitziber by: Fatima
I'm not sure that my review can ever do The Charioteer justice. One look at other people's reviews and it'll be immediately apparent that Renault has touched her readers deeply, and I'm no less than everyone else.

The Charioteer is a novel to be savored. It works on more than one level, and in fact it's one of those books that can be re-read to discover what you missed the first, second, third time around. When you have finally extracted all the meanings you are able to, it is time to read The P
rating: 5/5

Laurie Odell, injured during World War II, is transferred to a veterans hospital. There he meets and falls in love with a Quaker Hospital attendant, Andrew Raynes, an innocent young man who hasn’t figured himself out yet. To complicate matters fate brings back into his life an old school friend, Ralph Lanyon, who is familiar with the pitfalls of being gay during that era and also develops feelings for him. Laurie, healing from his injury and at the crossroads of his life, must now mak
Jorrie Spencer
Dec 05, 2011 Jorrie Spencer rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mary Renault's "The Charioteer" has definitely become one of the most amazing books I have ever read. It treats a very sensitive topic in a really subtle way.

The book is also incredibly involving. I found the beginning a bit slow and the language of the 50s a bit complicated, but I'm really happy that it did not scare me off and I decided to continue reading. There was a point in the book when I suddenly started feeling that I almost participate in the events, that I wait together with the main
Dec 23, 2011 Michael rated it it was amazing
I love this book. It's a slice of life I'd never have thought to seek out before it found me: young gay British intellectuals swept up into World War II, injured, and recuperating during the Blitz (which seems a little non-terrifying and romanticized here, but I choose to let that slide in the face of a fascinatingly nuanced love story SHUT UP IT'S CHRISTMAS AND EVERYTHING'S FUZZY).

Here's a speech from 1953 that holds up perfectly well today:
"You say this boy has guts, but what you're trying to
Jan 02, 2011 Drianne rated it it was ok
Shelves: gay, fiction, m-m, historical, pwned
A novel about a gay British soldier recuperating in a hospital from a battle injury during WWII, and the Conscientious Objector he falls in love with. If only there hadn't been so much more to the story -- it seemed to be depicting a subculture of gay men in the 40s, and while that was very interesting historically, it was *really* hard to follow all the things in the story. In fact, I think this may be one of the only books I've ever read where I could re-read passages several times and still f ...more
Gin Jenny (Reading the End)
Ah, yes, The Charioteer. By the matchless Mary Renault, my love for whom cannot be expressed in strong enough terms, the author of Fire from Heaven and The Persian Boy, which I read as a kid and have never stopped loving. The Charioteer is one of her earlier novels, set more in modern times (World War II), at an army hospital as it happens.

Basically the main character, Laurie (called Spud because his last name’s Odell, bless him) is wounded at Dunkirk and falls madly in love with a conscientious
Stephen Groenewegen
Feb 20, 2015 Stephen Groenewegen rated it liked it
Novels, like films and other art forms, date. The best works of art tap into something universal, and timeless, and can be read and enjoyed across the decades. Some novels are so full of contemporary mood and feeling, they quickly become period pieces and snapshots of a particular time and place.

The Charioteer is about a love triangle between three men in England during the Second World War. It was written in the 1950s and covers gay love as you’d expect a British novel of the 1950s to: discreet
K.Z. Snow
I can't possibly rate this book, which I found tedious and intriguing, incomprehensible and brilliant. And not altogether satisfying. Leaves me in kind of a bind, eh?

The early mid-century British colloquialisms tripped me up in virtually every paragraph. I barely had time to recover from one before another two or three came rolling along. They weren't conducive to a smooth read. Characters' nicknames were somewhat easier to digest; I've heard a few of them before. But when Laurie, Spuddy, Binky,
Dec 26, 2012 Sergey rated it really liked it
at the start, an overwhelming sadness cloaked over me as i settled (and as i ponder it thereafter, it hovers still) to endeavor this voyage; pacing the movement, letting the words paint the picture; so many words unspoken . . . . . and wasn’t it better of it in the end? a relentless melancholy of what was to be, like wet wool, enveloped me in misery. i wished it never end; to go on and on but never come to finish, for never want to learn more of what fate must, surely, bring to be for these soul ...more
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Q&A with Josh Lanyon: December 2012 and January 2013: The Charioteer 572 208 Mar 18, 2016 09:32AM  
The 2016 Reading ...: LGBT buddy-read - The Charioteer by Mary Renault (Dec. 2014) 154 71 Dec 22, 2014 01:54AM  
Chapter 2 1 13 Jun 30, 2014 10:35AM  
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Mary Renault was an English writer best known for her historical novels set in Ancient Greece. In addition to vivid fictional portrayals of Theseus, Socrates, Plato and Alexander the Great, she wrote a non-fiction biography of Alexander.

Her historical novels are all set in ancient Greece. They include a pair of novels about the mythological hero Theseus and a trilogy about the career of Alexander
More about Mary Renault...

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“There is only one kind of shock worse than the totally unexpected: the expected for which one has refused to prepare.” 48 likes
“You mustn't get so upset about what you feel, Spud. No one's a hundred per cent consistent all the time. We might like to be. We can plan our lives along certain lines. But you know, there's no future in screwing down all the pressure valves and smashing in the gauge. You can do it for a bit and then something goes. Sometimes it gets that the only thing is just to say, 'That's what I'd like to feel twenty-four hours a day; but, the hell with it, this is how I feel now.” 23 likes
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