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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Ransom by David Malouf

"Ransom" is a jewel of a novel bringing, once again, the vitality and ageless story of Homer's classic tale of courage, defeat, victory and human emotion to life. The action begins on Book 22 of "The Illiad" (for those of you who might be purists of the art form). Beginning so deep into a narrative might create all sorts of pitfalls for a writer trying to personify these characters while staying true to the form of the plot. In "Ransom," David Malouf's prose is so personal, so intricately and psychological that all the grief, pain and humiliation of Priam at the feet of Achilles is powerful without losing the essence of the scene, and the respect each man had for the other. The novel is based on the events after Achilles defeats Hector in battle and then proceeds to drag his body around the walls of Troy. This was a terrible spectacle, unwarranted for a warrior of Achilles' rank, but Malouf makes an Achilles so human, so complex in his grief and rancor, that his relationship to Patroklos (Hector had killed Patroklos thinking it was Achilles, Patroklos was wearing Achilles armor) makes for a psychologically infused Achilles, his love for his boy friend (and I don't mean it in today's meaning of those words) becomes our grief. I found myself asking, but how all of this circumstantial boola-boola create such a painful result for all involved. The gods must have been taking the day off.

Among the other characters from "The Iliad" brought down to the level of mortals is Priam, King of Troy. Malouf's novel "Ransom," begins with Priam's plan to recover the body of his son Hector and grant him proper burial. He devices a plan which main premise is to appeal to the best of Achilles, his soul, his good will, his compassion for a father seeking to retrieve the body of his son from further humiliation. So this is a compact novel about "The Iliad" not just because it only covers that part of the great battle for Troy. It shows every single character (even the mule driven carriage's driver, Somax, who is made the King's herald on the mission to recover Hector's body. He is as complex as the more 'advanced' characters, and much of Priam's insight about the 'real' human condition he learns from Somax on the way to Achilles camp. The gods make a small, very small appearance in the form of a playful Hermes. Yet, the core of the story really takes place in the exchange between Achilles and Priam. The mule driven carriage had been filled with gold and all sorts of valuables, but that is inconsequential to Achilles. The men share a meal together and talk--the level of palpable human-like characteristics in this scene, as well as in all the others, makes "Ransom" a novel everyone MUST read. Whatever questions you may have about the role of classical texts in today's society will slip quietly back to one's least worries.

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At 2:47 PM, Blogger Sandra said...

I've just read the first chapter and am impressed by his writing. I'm familiar with profound grief and the anger it can provoke, but dragging that body around for nine days seems excessive. I admit to knowing very little of the details of the original story-other than the outcome of the war, so I have no idea of what's coming or how close Malouf sticks to the original. But with such a powerful opening chapter it has to be a fascinating story. I look forward to continuing and will reread your review afterward.
And thank you for visiting Fresh Ink Books and for your kind words.


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