K.Z. Snow's Reviews > The Charioteer

The Charioteer by Mary Renault
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Dec 29, 2011


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, Sandy, Bim, Bunny, and Toto (!) flew thick and fast, I winced.

Far worse for me were the unremitting introspection and circumspection that saturated the plot -- or rather, what little plot there was. Both taxed my patience. Worst of all were the flatness of Andrew and the fussy indecisiveness and mental maunderings of Laurie. For all his Platonic idealization of manlove, all his purity of feeling and nobility of intent, he could be repellently petty, judgmental, and self-involved.

I liked the other characters well enough, Ralph in particular, but it's difficult to become immersed in a story when one of the three major players is consistently exasperating and another is too airily drawn to evoke any reaction. Were it not for Ralph, I suspect this novel wouldn't be nearly as beloved as it is.

Still, I saw much to admire: bits of dialogue that rang crisp and true; evocative descriptions; keen psychological insights; a refusal to descend into maudlin melodrama. I only wish my enjoyment of the book met or exceeded my admiration. I would've liked to have read it with more relish and less dogged determination.

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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Eric (new) - added it

Eric Arvin I have got to read this. Everyone is always raving about it. It's up there with Zimmer Bradley's 'Catch Trap' on my Classics Yet To Be Read list.


message 2: by K.Z. (new) - added it

K.Z. Snow Hey, Eric. Yeah, it's definitely worth a read, if for no other reason than it is a gay lit classic that sheds a lot of light on its times. I doubt I'll slog through it again, though.

I find it interesting that Mary Renault was apparently a lesbian, and I can't help but wonder if she projected some of her own experiences onto her gay male characters or actually had gay friends.


message 3: by Eric (new) - added it

Eric Arvin Interesting review. Now I don't feel so bad about not reading it yet. Though, I did enjoy Renault's "The Persian Boy" a great deal.


message 4: by K.Z. (new) - added it

K.Z. Snow Some other reviewers mentioned that they found her classical-era fiction a lot more readable. But I'm still the odd dame out on this one. :)


Annie Kaye I agree with this review almost completely. I didn't find Andrew flat. I did find Laurie's character development a little unrealistic: over and over, it seems, he experienced lightning bolt revelations that were exactly the opposite of what he'd been convinced of a moment before - revelations about himself, his mother, Ralph, Andrew and just about every other character. So how could he be so consistently wrong, and if he could be so wrong, would he realistically have understood his error, so quickly and so repeatedly?

Ultimately the ending was sudden and unsatisfying, unfortunately, Nd the scenes where he was around Ralph's friends were tedious. Many conversations were only half-expressed, which may have been true to the situations they were in, but certainly didn't make for real understanding in the reader


Sara Having read "Mongrel," all I can do is giggle at this critique.


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