Nikki's Reviews > The King Must Die

The King Must Die by Mary Renault
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's review
Jan 24, 11

bookshelves: historical-fiction-alternatehistory, greek-roman
Read on January 24, 2011

I hoped to enjoy Mary Renault's work a lot. I'm not a classicist so much now, but I'm still interested, and a plausible retelling that tries to put a bit of history into fantastical myth is usually worth a look, in my view. And this was, in some ways: realistic up to a point, detailed, exciting at times...

I just really didn't like Theseus, the narrator and central character. I thought he was smug, and it rankled, especially when he was smug about breaking women's power. There are a few positive female characters -- his mother, some of the bull leapers -- but really all the time it's an attack on the power women wield. It claims to acknowledge the importance of that female power, and perhaps if things were different with Ariadne, it would have, but her doll-like aspect, her childlike disconnection... It just all rang the same note: don't put power in women's hands.

That was profoundly discomforting to read, regardless of how accurate it may be as a portrayal of the attitudes of the period.

The other main problem was how much it dragged for me. Layer on layer of detail, of embroidering the stories and explaining every detail... The breathless moments during the bull leaping were the best part.
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Reading Progress

01/23/2011 page 156
44.0% "Theseus bothers me, crowing about how he managed to break female power in Eleusis. Womenz r ebil lolol?"
01/24/2011 page 215
61.0% "On more familiar ground, now that Theseus is in Crete. This is all less familiar than I'd expect: either Mary Renault is creating stuff, or my classics is rustier than I thought."
01/24/2011 page 264
75.0% "Ah, now I'm beginning to see how Mary Renault has done it. Very clever, really."
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Comments (showing 1-5)

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Lucinda Elliot Hey, Nikki, I felt just the same, and it is nice to meet another who does, as so many give this glowing reviews. I thought Theseus' threatening to kill his father's 'war prize' for having a wandering eye mean, and his wish to rape and threat to beat Persephone unpleasant, and when he went on to overthrow female rule steam came out of my ears...
All this was as nothing to his cowardly murder of poor Phaedra in 'The Bull from the Sea', for which he never expresses the slightest regret.

Emma Glaisher Are we supposed to like him? Renault is conjuring up a very distant time, with very different values and views. I've no idea if it is correct, but I find it convincing. Interestingly, Mary herself had little time for women, in spite of being a lesbian! And she adored gay men (but would never have used the word 'gay').

Nikki Sure, maybe, but I don't have to enjoy reading about a nasty misogynist in a book where all the women are rendered powerless, whether it's accurate or intentional or not.

Emma Glaisher Of course you don't. But it's Renault's interpretation of the legend, an idea of what the 'real life' events could have been. I think the women are being rendered powerless in reaction to the female-dominated society the Hellenes are replacing (not sure if current scholarship still supports this, but that's not really relevant).

I can quite understand how you found it disturbing, though. I agree, it is! Anyway, thanks for responding!

message 1: by Lucinda (last edited May 23, 2011 01:07AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lucinda Elliot Emmm and Nikki - sorry to but in here, but in response to Emma's remark about Theseus and the attack on matriarchy, there's two books I thought powerfully written, 'Ariadne' and 'Phaedra' by June Rachuy Brindel, a US author, which I read recently and if she's intrigued by the attack on matriarchy she might find them interesting.Sorry, couldn't resist joining in on this, reading a lot of stuff about the attack on matriarchies recently (ie an article 'Knocking Down Straw Dolls' in refuation to that Eller's book about the 'Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory' that patriarchal men seem to promote).
Nikki, still loving your reviews!


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