Ransom by David Malouf
|Ransom by David Malouf|
|Genre: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Robin Leggett|
|Summary: Revisiting The Iliad, Malouf uses lyrical, spare prose to tell the story of Priam's efforts to ransom the body of his dead son from Achilles, showing the power of storytelling and an exquisite depiction of grief, rage and revenge and of the human condition.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 240||Date: November 2009|
|Publisher: Chatto and Windus|
Taking his theme from a small part of Homer's Iliad, Malouf tells the story of the king of Troy, Priam's grief-stricken voyage into the Greek camp to ransom Troy's wealth for the body of his fallen son, Hector, killed by the equally grief-stricken Achilles whose great friend Hector had killed in battle before Achilles took his cruel revenge. Malouf tells the story in sparse, yet lyrical and poetic fashion suggesting the personal stories behind the epic themes that Homer related. It is an exquisitely written piece managing to be both deeply moving as well as a great piece of story telling.
The book concludes with an Afterword - a note on sources and the inspiration for the book. In it, Malouf relates that he first heard the story of the siege Troy in primary school and was mesmerised by Homer's tale. I couldn't help but wonder how many of today's primary school children think that Homer is just a yellow, donut-eating, cartoon character, while Greece's greatest contribution to culture is Stavros Flatley. It's a worrying thought.
Of course, Malouf is not the first great writer to be inspired by Homer - writers from Shakespeare through to, more recently, Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad, have gone down this route before. Malouf, like Atwood, takes some of the events and characters of the source, and creates new stories, filling in the personal thought processes and stories of Homer's characters in a thoroughly modern way. If your main medium is the spoken word, as Homer's tale would have been literally retold, you have to concentrate on the action to keep your listeners enthralled. Malouf fills in some of these gaps for us.
Ransom relates the story from the point of view of three main characters - Priam, Achilles and, the beautifully drawn character of Malouf's own invention, Somax, a humble carter who is plucked from obscurity to be chosen to drive the ransom, in the company of his king, into the heart of the Greek camp. His sense of bewilderment in mixing with the great names of the war is palpable. In return, he introduces Priam to the world of idle chit chat which equally mystifies his royal self.
It's a book very much about individuals and the choices they make to achieve what they are meant to achieve. It is these choices, which in Homer seem more like fate (and the influence of all those annoying gods), that Malouf offers us the modern and human side to these stories.
So, yes, in some ways it's a book about anger, grief, revenge and the effects of war, but it's far from a gloomy read. The touch of the writing is sublimely light and there are plenty of wry moments, a whole heap of humanity and gripping storytelling. It's a slim novel and I would happily have spent more time with any of these characters - particularly with Somax.
It's a very long time since I read the Iliad - but this has made me think about diving into it again ..... but first, I think I'll read some more David Malouf books.
Many thanks to the publishers for inviting The Bookbag to review a copy of this book.
If your interest lies in all things Greek, then in The Tomb of Agamemnon by Cathy Gere you will find plenty to keep you happy, while if you have a taste for the more lyrical style of writing that Malouf uses, John Banville's The Infinities also features Greek gods, while Amulet by Roberto Bolano is also a beautiful piece of poetic writing.
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