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Typical orientalist fantasy fluff
on 10 February 2009
When I was reading this I was having real trouble imagining who this would appeal to, only to come here and realise it obviously appeals to a lot of people. I came to this book thinking that it would be a good idea to read a work of literature that was set in Ancient Egypt to give me an idea of Egypt as it was, whilst enjoying the prose of a master of the art.
This was not to transpire.
The bulk of the story is told in flashback of a dead man whilst fellating his similarly dead grandfather (who may or may not be the same person) - his chief fear being that his dead grandfather will sodomise him. This is revealed later to be because the ancient Egyptians in Mailer's world bugger each other to steal their soul. Oh, and they can all read each other's minds.
So, the story in no way brings the past to life. This isn't how things were, nor even how the ancient Egyptians thought things were. It's the pervy thoughts of a once great writer translated into a LONG, rambling novel.
And how it rambles. If ever an editor was required it is here. The lazy prose is rarely taught (the battle of Kadesh being an exception), and flabbily wallows in a description of whatever chapter of the history book he's reading mixed up with some incest and buggery. Very little has relevance to the narrative, nor does there seem to be any real unity of thought or purpose.
Occasionally some good prose shines through, but the general impression is of Mailer drooling and masturbating, an old, sad man in the decadence of his powers. Some of the sexual descriptions must rank as some of the worst ever; certainly a lot more tedious than erotic.
Clearly there is a big market for raunchy stories set in past times - goodness knows why - so I'm sure a lot of people will like this. Just be aware as you set out on this epic that it's fairly boring if you're not titillated by barely disguised soft porn, and if you want better insights into ancient Egypt then Naguib Mahfouz is a better read, as are most of the historical text books out there.