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Ancient Evenings

3.39  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,317 Ratings  ·  135 Reviews
Norman Mailer’s dazzlingly rich, deeply evocative novel of ancient Egypt breathes life into the figures of a lost era: the eighteenth-dynasty Pharaoh Rameses and his wife, Queen Nefertiti; Menenhetet, their creature, lover, and victim; and the gods and mortals that surround them in intimate and telepathic communion. Mailer’s reincarnated protagonist is carried through the ...more
Hardcover, 709 pages
Published March 1st 1983 by Little, Brown & Company (Boston) (first published 1983)
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Jan 30, 2013 Szplug rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 13, 2008 Caitlin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Magdelanye 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 NMs 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 askew,
Jack Mason
Aug 22, 2012 Jack Mason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Leo Robertson
Jul 25, 2015 Leo Robertson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an odd one.

This is, I think, what Stephen King was trying to say about writing even big books across the length of a season and no longer. Few authors can pull off greatness when it comes to projects they hold on to for too long. They get complicated, overly dense, they hold onto passages that should be snipped out, they forget the eureka moment that spurred the author to write them, they suffer from Will Self’s everything-itis.

Heller was successful with Something Happened and likely oth
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
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
Ted Burke
Dec 13, 2013 Ted Burke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
May 27, 2011 Chris rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mythology
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
Oct 11, 2011 Sammy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 11, 2011 Savannah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Vit Babenco
Jun 12, 2014 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 31, 2011 Lyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastically detailed and colorful, truly a literary masterpiece yet maintaining Mailer's personality, as if he were narrating with a wink and grin.
Sanjay Varma
Feb 23, 2016 Sanjay Varma rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
You really shouldn't read this book unless you are in the mood for something totally different.

As for me, when I turned 16 I decided to start reading "serious literature" and so I went to the library, walked past my beloved fantasy/sci-fi shelves, and ended up in the fiction section. Somewhat randomly, I chose "Ancient Evenings" by Norman Mailer. Why? I didn't put too much thought into my choice (because I figured I'd have to read it all in the end anyway) but I associated Mailer with 60's writi
Jul 17, 2012 Jo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 25, 2015 Amy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I rarely don't not find.ish a book, but sadly this was a struggle that I chose not to continue.Sorry N.Mailer!
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
Sep 17, 2014 Jimmy Jump rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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
Mailer show formidable erudition in this massive account of live in the court of the Pharaoh Rameses II as told to his descendent, Rameses IX by his courtier, Menenhetet who is no less that the fourth reincarnation of a previous Menenhetet who had served as a charioteer at the Battle of Kadesh and later as general at the head of the armies of Egypt.

The account blends together the politics of the ancient world with a religious viewpoint in which the Gods in countless numbers permeate every aspec
Sep 30, 2015 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Famed for his gritty war novel "The Naked and the Dead" (incidentally another great read)Ancient Evenings is an abrupt departure from the usual Norman Mailer novels we have come to expect, but it is no less entertaining.
Ancient Evenings is an astonishing achievement of creative imagination. For most people, ancient Egypt is an enigma, but somehow Mailer conjures it all up as though he himself has lived it - just like all great writers of fiction.
Mailer's flair with the written word and its eloqu
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
Christine Nicole
Mar 04, 2016 Christine Nicole rated it it was ok
We get it, you have a penis. And an obsession with anal that I can only attribute to sexual repression. How many times does the word 'sword' have to be used in place of 'penis' before a reader goes blind? When it appears on 600 of 688 pages, me thinks he doth obsess too much.

He is obviously a brilliant writer and more than astute researcher, but this historical fiction foray was exhausting and approximately 400 pages superfluous, in addition to on multiple occasions not making any damn sense. T
Jun 13, 2012 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books I have ever read--8 times!
Catherine Mommsen Scott
Jul 19, 2012 Catherine Mommsen Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: a-list
Astoundingly good book.
Feb 15, 2016 Andrew rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Okay, so people either love Mailer, or hate him; after dragging myself through "Ancient Evenings", I now hate him as well as love him.

I am fascinated with Ancient Egypt and (usually) blown away by Norman Mailer, so I was really looking forward to this book. And it started well - brilliantly, even - with a beginning that keeps the reader on their toes with some crafty twists that somehow incorporates Egyptian mythology with today's sensibilities.

But then.

But then the book degenerated into a self-
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Egyptian Realms: Ancient Evenings 1 6 Jul 18, 2015 08:31PM  
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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 about Norman Mailer...

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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.” 3 likes
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