Laura Leaney's Reviews > Ransom

Ransom by David Malouf
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it was amazing

This novel is a new telling of a very small section of Homer's "Iliad," the one where King Priam of Troy infiltrates the camp of Achilles to plead (offer ransom) for the body of his son Hector. This is pretty much all the action of the novel - but Malouf gives an elegiac philosophical grandeur to the scene that is absolutely beautiful. We are now privy to the thoughts of Priam and Achilles, and the complexity of both men - as well as the nuances of their pain and sadnesses - make for compelling reading. King Priam is old, and he knows the end of his life is near; Achilles is young, but can sense and smell his death on the air. Their attitudes about the inevitable are deeply moving.

What is most surprising is the central part that Priam's "herald" and driver, the low-ranking Somax plays. The drive to the Greek camp becomes a lesson in what is human for Priam. The humble carter is a story-teller who reaches the King's cool regal heart in new ways, and Priam is loosened from his trap as homeric symbol and becomes human.

The prose is elevated and noble. I love Homer so much that I thought this might be a tough read for me - but Malouf keeps the grace and beauty intact. And what's even more accomplished is that the characters we know in the "Iliad" are still the same in "Ransom," only deepened. Achilles is still a "vast bulk" of a man, with "ropelike muscles of the neck," a warrior with a deep and dangerous anger. But "Ransom" takes him out of the stereotype of warrior machine and gives him a bit of emotional grace. I found it fascinating and riveting.
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Reading Progress

July 24, 2011 – Shelved
August 7, 2011 – Started Reading
Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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message 1: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne You've inspired me to read the Iliad, which I've never read in its entirety, then I'll tackle this one. But this may be a project for another year. Too Many Books! Darn you, Laura Leaney, how am I ever going to get my to-read list under control if you keep posting 5 star reviews?


Laura Leaney See? That's what I say about you, Suzanne! "Sharp Teeth," "Rules of Civility," et cetera. You've got a great eye for good books. I'm still thinking about lycanthropes........you really scored on that one!


message 3: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne I am glad you enjoyed Sharp Teeth. What translation would you recommend for the Iliad?


Laura Leaney I've only read two translations in their entirety and part of a third. Lattimore and Fagles were both a joy; Lattimore's is more accurate I believe, but Fagles's version was so fun. I don't read Greek, so I have to trust the critics. Anyway, I read part of a Fitzgerald translation in school, but I don't remember being impressed one way or the other.


message 5: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Emmett The wise driver motif and its use to deliver a message of truth to Priam reminds me of the Krishna/Arjun dynamic in The Baghavad Gita.


Laura Leaney Ooooh, yes! And doesn't Arjun and the charioteer discuss mixing of castes as well? I ask because in "Ransom" one of Priam's new interests is in what separates nobility from the common man. I don't exactly remember what Krishna tells Arjun, but it's something along the lines of "fight like a member of the noble caste." Man, I didn't even think of this, but you're absolutely right.


message 7: by Antoine (new)

Antoine T. did you get your car fix yet?


Laura Leaney My car? I did recently repair it, yes.


message 9: by Antoine (new)

Antoine T. Laura wrote: "My car? I did recently repair it, yes."

I am still wiating to get mine fix.


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