every Starbucks should have a polar bear (scoradh) wrote,
every Starbucks should have a polar bear


The Charioteer, Mary Renault

I was so well disposed to like this book. Actually, that's a lie. I didn't think a book about gay men set in WWII, and moreover written just a decade after it, could ever turn out well. I just didn't think it would turn out this badly. And the writing! Forget purple, I think we need a whole new shade. Delicate gentian hue, perhaps.

Willis gets two of the best descriptions in the novel - not because it's a novel bereft of description, but rather overburdened with it; none of it bad, all of it simply excessive.

It must have taken generations of conditioning to breed him, in some dockside warren neglected by angels and the borough inspector.

Willis' face slumped soggily, seeming to mirror a defeated ancestry as long as Banquo's line of kings.

The thing is, he didn’t need all that description. He isn’t even the major villain of the piece.

"[...] I mean, the rightness of a thing isn't determined by the amount of courage it takes. It must have taken a lot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, for instance."

I am actually exceedingly puzzled by the setting of the novel. I suppose it must have been topical in 1955, but the war seemed to have but lightly impacted all the characters. Laurie got away with a bust knee and a Get Out of War Free card. I was expecting at least one person to die in the Blitz, or else what is it for? My money was on Andrew, but Ralph would have done at a pinch. Ergo, the fact that Andrew was a conscientious objector didn't feature enough for the scandal it must have been. I'm not sure it was even relevant - as in, if he was just a nurse (if they had male nurses back then), and the one or two conversations about his religion were cut, it wouldn't have impacted the story's outcome in any way.

"Well, then. What I mean, they say put yourself in the other chap's place. But what I reckon, it's more of a knack, see, and not many people got it. Now you got it, Spud. You got it more than anyone I know. So stands to reason, you expect it all back, that's human nature. Well, you're out of luck, Spud, that's all. That's life and you got to face it, may as well face it first as last. See what I mean?"

Except for how Laurie doesn't actually demonstrate this talent at any time in the book.

The blackberries tasted of frost and faint sun and smoke and purple leaves: sweet, childish, and sad.

Yeah, NO. Blackberries taste of blackberries or, if you're exceptionally unlucky, worms. I don't think any fruit tastes SAD.

"You must think," Laurie managed, "that I've a horrible mind. The trouble is, I've got a pretty good idea what the Staff Sergeant's is like."

MUCH OF THE NOVEL BEWILDERED ME. What WAS this conversation about? Andrew wants to borrow a blanket for them to lie outside in; Laurie has an uncomfortable pause; he suggests here that it's because the Sergeant would think they're fucking, but HE doesn't think that; yet forever after Andrew is presented as entirely innocent, a dude who can't even figure out he's gay. WHAAAAAAAAAAT.

Even from across the hall, you could see that his eyes were blue.

Ah, I like this. I don't know why Ralph/Laurie wasn't pushed harder. They were clearly the best fit:

"Oh, come, be your age. For God's sake, what does it matter to you what I meant?"
"It does, that's all. I can't imagine there ever being a time when it wouldn't."

Like, Laurie has a crush on Andrew because he's pretty. He idolises Ralph, which isn't much better, but at least it's based on slightly more.

"I expect your stepfather might think me rather a bad influence."
"Oh, yes, horrible. If he found Jesus Christ preaching on the village green, he'd have him arrested for blasphemy inside five minutes."


So, in the end, Laurie catches Ralph before he kills himself - effectively turning them into Alec and Sandy. Was that the POINT? I have to say I do not like the way all the gay relationships were presented as one person being clingy and weak and the other needing to be needed. There are more personality types than that, I swear by all stars.

Previously, on Book Glomp 2009:
He Knew He Was Right, Anthony Trollope |The Bostonians, Henry James | For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway | For Esme - with Love and Squalor, JD Salinger | The Outsider, Albert Camus | The Princess Diaries: Ten out of Ten, Meg Cabot | The Vicar of Bullhampton, Anthony Trollope | Molesworth, Geoffrey Willans | Villette, Charlotte Bronte | The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James | The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler | Cecilia, Fanny Burney | The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger | The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark | Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut | Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann | Siddhartha, Herman Hesse | The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga | The Duke and I, Julia Quinn | Brave New World, Aldous Huxley | North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell | Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee | Catch-22, Joseph Heller | Bright Shiny Morning, James Frey | Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck | The Demon's Lexicon, Sarah Rees Brennan | The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton | jPod, Douglas Coupland | 'Are these my basoomas I see before me?', Louise Rennison | Faro's Daughter, Georgette Heyer | Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman | The Accidental Sorcerer, K.E. Mills | Ethan of Athos, Lois McMaster Bujold | V., Thomas Pynchon | The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway | The Dragon Keeper, Robin Hobb | Orlando, Virginia Woolf | The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath | Snuff, Chuck Palahniuk | Crush, Richard Siken | Trust Me, I'm a Junior Doctor, Max Pemberton | The Dice Man, Luke Rhinehart | Call Me By Your Name, Andre Aciman | Young Miles, Lois McMaster Bujold | He's Just Not That Into You, Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo | The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand | A Classical Education, Caroline Taggart | The Way We Live Now, Anthony Trollope | Two Cures for Love, Wendy Cope | Unseen Academicals, Terry Pratchett | Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand | Diary, Chuck Palahniuk | Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray | ♥ A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth | A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway | Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift | Castle in the Air, Diana Wynne Jones | Anything for Love, Sarah Webb | A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
Tags: book glomp 2009
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