Ancient Evenings
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Ancient Evenings

3.38 of 5 stars 3.38  ·  rating details  ·  1,097 ratings  ·  118 reviews
Menehetet I rises from peasant stock to become a harem overlord between the reigns of Ramses II & Ramses IX of Egypt.
The book of one man dead
The book of the gods
The book of the child
The book of the charioteer
The book of queens
The book of the Pharoah
The book of secrets
Hardcover, 709 pages
Published March 1st 1983 by Little, Brown & Company (Boston) (first published 1983)
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Beyond any doubt, Mailer can write: witness the incredibly vivid, disorienting, existentially-inebriated explosiveness of a Nile-nourished soul's rupturing reincarnation within fleshly garb that opens Ancient Evenings. This was so well done that my hopes for the thickish remainder was nigh unbounded. Alas, Mailer also cannot seem to discipline himself, and his voluminous story progressively spirals into sheer authorial indulgence, almost as if all thoughts of the patient reader accompanying such...more
As the reviews below suggest, this will be a 1 star or a 5 star for you, but unlikely to be anything much in between. I adore Mailer - for his cockiness, his absolute conviction of his own brilliance, for the sentences whose structure make me drop my jaw and laugh, for insight, and for buggery. Who else could write a sprawling Egyptian epic stuffed with filth of roaches and make it so thoroughly mine? I love this best of all he's written and think about it more than the rest combined. God help m...more
The recent news aboput Mailer being on his deathbed reminded me of my one and only attempt at reading his stuff. I must have gotten through at least the first third of this book but godalmighty... pretty much just an excuse for vivid descriptions of buggery, buggery, and incest. Also, buggery.

Dude has issues.
In a recent post on my blog, I spent a good deal of time discussing how ancient Egypt receives a disproportionate amount of popular attention as far as classical history goes. And then I promptly began reading a novel by Norman Mailer set in ancient Egypt. I learned about Ancient Evenings (and a number of other extremely interesting books) from a post by Wilfried Houjebek on the original and worthwhile site SpaceCollective. Houjebek describes it this way:

"[Ancient Evenings] is the autobiography...more
¨ drifting¨

So insists the man with the pus-filled eye,even if he is about to be given a severe thrashing by a boatman who violently disagrees. But it is a good way to approach this massive,astonishing work of historical fiction that spans dynasties. It is also indicative of NM´s tendency to mingle the repulsive and the sublime, and in so doing he weaves a rich and vivid tapestry of reality that we can taste and smell and almost touch.

No matter that some of the details are sorely ask...more
Oh, what the fuck, Norman. You've completely lost it.

I respected The Naked and the Dead very much. A true epic of the Pacific War, no question. This is something by a different person entirely. Now, in his later career, he just seems to be fascinated with shit - literally. The historical novel about Hitler seemed to have too much rambling rants about piss in it. I refuse to read too much into his personal life, but this almost seems fetishistic.

Aside from that, I've always had a fascination for...more
Jack Mason
ANCIENT EVENINGS is so many things. It's one of the greatest gay love stories ever written, for one-- something that is downplayed by reviewers in favor of a categorical dismissal of the novel as merely "endless descriptions of sodomy." The tempestuous love between Ramses II and Menenhetet I forms the core of the novel, couched in a complicated, beautiful framing device that resembles Proust as much as THE ARABIAN NIGHTS. It's also an arty fantasy/ sci-fi epic in the manner of DUNE-- supernatura...more
Bloated and exhausting, this is still an exhiliratingly perverse phallocentric psychodrama as set in the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt. Not as sharp or original as Mailer's fiction (and non-fiction) of the 60s, it manages to hit some heights amidst its 700-plus pages: the hallucinatory opening in which a soul screams through rebirth, a boat trip down the Nile, and the Satyricon-esque Battle of Kadesh. Personally I prefer more of Mailer's magic (mind-reading, reincarnation, curses) than his soap o...more
A literary pornographic slasher flick.

Made it up to pg. 380 and quit. I can't take it anymore. The beginning few parts were interesting and original, and here and there parts would sparkle off the page, making me sob that I shall never write so well. But! That said: the main thread of this entire book is a pre-adolescent boy listening to his parents and great-grandfather speak with the Pharaoh (while his mother tries to seduce the Pharaoh) about lots of lively topics like blood-drinking, canniba...more
Bryn Hammond
I can only tell you my experience of the book.

It was knocking on the door of greatness. The beginning was staggering, and I was floored by the musicality of its sentences, its startling imagery, and the depth of thought that made these ancient Egyptians remind me, as others before me, of aliens in a science fiction novel – that is, the past is an alien world. I was having an encounter with this novel, like you have with extraterrestials or great beasts. This reached its pitch with the Battle of...more
Really Norman? An anal & incest fetishist's interpretation of the whole Osiris myth? Not only is that disrespectful to Egyptians, but obscene to people who care about mythology. I didn't care to read it long enough to find out if Menenhetet was just putting his own filthy twist on the myth, or if Norman really thought it was ok to have their Gods corn-holing each other just because Egyptian pharaohs wanted to keep their genes pure by copulating with their own family. This ghastly choice of c...more
A startling work of creative imagination.

Norman Mailer - love him or hate him - had a mastery of the language that very few could rival. It is apparent in all his works, including "Ancient Evenings", which takes place at a variety of Egyptian locales, from royal dinners to family barge rides, from distant mining camps to tombs. Much of the story is told in flashback, much of it recited by a ponderous old man. The highlights of the book are:
a) Mailer's immense knowledge of the age. I adored Ancie...more
Though the first ninety or so pages of this book outmatch a bit for stylistic and gutsy integrity the remaining six-hundred, the critical treatment of /Ancient Evenings/ still seems largely unfair. One of the things I admire most about Mailer as a writer is the fact that he really does write very well, and in a style that could almost be called metaphysical, matching the poets like Marvell and Donne who are sometimes grouped together under that same textual adjective. Like the metaphysical poets...more
Simon Acland
I read Ancient Evenings whilst on holiday in Egypt, where it is set. It tells the story of Menenhetet, who is reincarnated three times from the reign of Ramses II onwards and recounts his story to the Pharoah during the Night of the Pig. Parts of the book are brilliant and create a highly believable picture of ancient Egypt. The account of the Battle of Kadesh fought by Ramses II against the Hittites, where Menenhetet is the Pharoah's chief charioteer, and of the events leading up to it, is very...more
Ted Burke
Mailer once remarked that his intention with writing Ancient Evenings was to compose a long sequence of novels telling the history of the Jewish people through the experience of one family, beginning in Ancient Egypt before the arrival of Christ, onward through time past various diasporas , persecutions, genocides, successes and setbacks, with the concluding edition of this fictional saga being somewhere in the future , in outer space, with the eyes of the protagonist trained outwards still. As...more
When we pierce deeply into human nature we find more filth than glory. So this novel seems to assert.

There is a cynicism to this book, a raw disdain for humanity that doesn't bother hiding in the subtext. It stains the page, and it can be difficult to read. The main character is born into the world multiple times, and the world never changes, not really. Not where it would count.

The story is told via frame. Menenhetet is offered a prestigious and powerful position by the pharaoh. Instead of just...more
Vit Babenco
The is a song “Islands of the Dead” by Be Bop Deluxe: “Come with me to the fire festival, let us burn each other blind. Let us dance, let us dance away, dance till the end of time. Come with me to the islands of the dead, to the soul house, to the fire-house, to smoke and ash of laughter in your head, sweet laughter, hereafter, ever after, in the islands of the dead”.
And in Ancient Evenings Norman Mailer literally takes us inside the Book of the Dead.
“We sail across dominions barely seen, washed...more
Richard Beasley
Read as teenager. Literary pyrotechnics captured me, but still have no clue what it is about
Anthony Bolton
Given that this book inspired Burrough`s ``Western lands , and a new film by Matthew Barney `River of Fundament`, as well as countless other artists and writers since it`s publication it might have to go down as one of the most influential bad books ever written because I for one have never seen a legitimate positive review of it .I TRIED TO READ IT WHEN I WAS A KID 18-19 and never got past the first remarkable pages but I memorized the first page and I can still recite it (almost accurately).
Jimmy Jump
"Ancient Evenings" isn't to everybody's taste (which is true for most books, actually) because Mailer has written this in a difficult-to-read style, with chopped-up overly long sentences and a grammer that has been put to paper like an ancient witch just rolled the bones.
On the other hand, this is a remarkable and fascinating read, spanning almost three millennia in which we follow several incarnations of the same spirit through a magical and mystical world, with fiction intertwined with histori...more
Charlene Gordon
What can I say? This is quite simply the WORST book I've ever read in my life! I'd never read Mailer before and at the time I read this I was on a serious ancient Egypt reading binge. I'm no quitter...I kept thinking that it had to get better and that is the only reason I even bothered to finish it. A few years after I read it I we visiting an aunt and saw that she was about 1/3 of the way through it and I asked her how she liked it so far. She said she really didn't like it at all so far and ke...more
One of the best books I have ever read--8 times!
Astoundingly good book.
La Stamberga dei Lettori
L'antico Egitto messo in scena dalla penna di Mailer si presenta con una veste inusuale: se l'immagine più comune che se ne ha in genere è quella delle mummie immerse nei sarcofagi in uno stato di sospensione eterna, dei reperti archeologici e delle pitture tombali sui muri delle piramidi, dal racconto della vita - delle molte vite in realtà - di un alto funzionario vissuto ai tempi della X dinastia, Menenhetet, emerge un'immagine molto diversa dal solito.
Il romanzo si apre proprio con la scena...more
If D.K. Broster's books strike one as being overly-clean for their hidden emotional subtext, this novel gives the absolute opposite impression of dirtiness and filth. The mud of the Nile pervades the whole, as does the sheer, stinking physicality of human sex, even in the most palatial surroundings. The main story of the novel is about the relationship between Rameses II, his charioteer Menenhetet, and various female appendages of Rameses - his two wives and one of his concubines. It is a story...more
The sheer boldness of the writing almost prevents a view of the work as a whole. Finally, I guess, I have to say that the overall impression I was left with was in having to describe the narrative as incredibly broad in an incredibly narrow way; talk about filling out an idea. Mailer must have channeled some observer of the times and places described throughout, as the reader's never allowed to feel as though s/he could possibly be anywhere but exactly where the narration is describing. I never...more
Janith Pathirage
This book has a great historical value. Norman Mailer has done a very deep research for this one. If you like to read about the ancient Egypt and Egyptian lifestyle, try this one. It has love, battles, conspiracies, mystic rituals, betrayal, grit .. you name it. I felt its spiritual power in every page. A great novel without any doubt
Do not read this book! Read Mailer, any Mailer... he's a genius and is dangerous with the English language... but this book is puerile, self-indulgent crap. It's not only shit, it's masturbatory shit - somehow combining the least attractive aspects of both masturbation and shitting. It's like he sat in a room in a throne constructed of shit, naked and corpulent, and masturbated shit onto the page.
Don't believe me? There's a scene (a lengthy scene) where one man rapes his friend. Why does he com...more
this is my roommate's favorite book (and I knew that before moving in with him), so I said I'd give it a try. sweet merciful egyptian gods, what was that? I can't even use my "didn't quite expect that" tag, because I don't know what that was. It's well written, and if you're into loveless sodomy and incest, this might work for you. I even like Ancient Egypt, but that couldn't get me over the wtf? factor.
If you're looking for slightly more accessible Mailer, I would recommend The castle in the fo...more
Linda Peregory
Not a book to read if you are not free to savor each passage. The length of the novel, and the cultured, descriptive writing style may seem intimidating, but I found the book well worth the effort.I know there was controversy over the accuracies andinaccuracies in Mailer's rcounting the lives of ancient Egyptians, but the story drew me in too much to really care. Mailer's writing, while a bit on the eavy side, paints a vivid picture of the society, and the day to day lives of those living in th...more
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Norman Kingsley Mailer was an American novelist, journalist, essayist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, and film director.

Along with Truman Capote, Joan Didion, and Tom Wolfe, Mailer is considered an innovator of creative nonfiction, a genre sometimes called New Journalism, but which covers the essay to the nonfiction novel. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice and the National Book Award once....more
More about Norman Mailer...
The Naked and the Dead The Executioner's Song An American Dream The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History The Fight

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“We sail across dominions barely seen, washed by the swells of time. We plow through fields of magnetism. Past and future come together on thunderheads and our dead hearts live with lightning in the wounds of the Gods.” 2 likes
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