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The Charioteer [Paperback]

Mary Renault
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 April 1980
After enduring an injury at Dunkirk during World War II, Laurie Odell is sent to a rural veterans’ hospital in England to convalesce. There he befriends the young, bright Andrew, a conscientious objector serving as an orderly. As they find solace and companionship together in the idyllic surroundings of the hospital, their friendship blooms into a discreet, chaste romance. Then one day, Ralph Lanyon, a mentor from Laurie’s schoolboy days, suddenly reappears in Laurie’s life, and draws him into a tight-knit social circle of world-weary gay men. Laurie is forced to choose between the sweet ideals of innocence and the distinct pleasures of experience.

Originally published in the United States in 1959, The Charioteer is a bold, unapologetic portrayal of male homosexuality during World War II that stands with Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar and Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories as a monumental work in gay literature.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: New English Library Ltd; New impression edition (1 April 1980)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0450001741
  • ISBN-13: 978-0450001741
  • Product Dimensions: 17.6 x 11.2 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 388,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite Story of Forbidden Love 14 July 2006
By Paul D
Format:Paperback
In this exquisite novel, Mary Renault, best-known for her novels set in ancient Greece, turns her attention to the tendentious subject of homosexual love during the Second World War. Laurie, a wounded soldier recovering in hospital, becomes enamoured of the young and clearly innocent Andrew, a conscientious objector who is working as an orderly. Into the midst of this idyll comes Ralph, an old friend from Laurie's school days, with whom Laurie was in love, or in awe. Along with Ralph come a variety of his friends, some melodramatic, some manipulative. The subject of the novel is Laurie's indecision between Andrew and his otherworldly, ethereal charm, and Ralph's more down-to-earth reality.

The title refers to the metaphor that which the soul is a charioteer in charge of two horses, one beautiful and well-behaved, the other wild and wilful. The charioteer has to keep peace between them and ensure that they don't drag the chariot off-course.

Mary Renault is respected for being so adept at creating believable male characters. Although some of the denizens of this novel are types, the nave pretty youth, the camp and dramatic queen, the manipulative, predatory homosexual, they never become stereotypes thanks to Renault's gift for characterization.

At the time this novel was written, during the 1950's, the subject of homosexuality was still contentious, and using it as the theme of a novel was a brave decision. There is nothing exploitive or prurient about the story, nor is there any kind of plea for tolerance; this is simply a story with well-drawn, consistent characters going about their daily lives.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Charming and unexpected 16 May 2003
Format:Paperback
As a great fan of the author, i discovered this title purely by accident in a charity shop and was mesmerised. Renault demonstrates exceptional insight into human nature and this talent, combined with a remarkable ability of transferring her observations to the written word, gives the reader a moving and very believable story of the lives of gay people during the second world war, well before the word was first penned. The characters are wonderfully complex and yet so very easy to relate to. The party sequence in which she continues to build the scene throughout the chapter, constantly introducing new and varied characters would be banal and confusing from anyone with less ability. If any novel is deserving of the title 'gay classic', this one gets my vote.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Honour and Brotherhood 9 July 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Comparing the secretive comradeship of homosexuals to the brotherhood in arms of servicemen in the Second World War was a very daring thing to do in the 1950s, but Mary Renault does it in this book. All three main characters and some of the secondary ones (Reg, Dave and Alec) have a strong code of honour and a sense of comradeship which leads them to a desire to protect their fellows. Not everyone can live up to the ideals of their respective codes: the public schoolboy who 'rats' on his head of school, the soldier who kills his instructor and blows off his own hand in grenade training, the unfaithful wife of a war-wounded soldier, the superficial gay party-goers, the vicar lacking in empathy or charity. A few characters seem to have no code of honour or comradeship whatsoever, but they seem to show its existence even more strongly by their deviance from it. (Interestingly there are no cowardly conscientious objectors, it is taken as read that all were acting on a moral imperative, war and pacifism were not the targets here.)

I borrowed Mary Renault's historical novels from the school library and enjoyed them very much. This one, possibly her greatest work, was not in the collection. I wish it had been, this is a masterpiece novel which must have been mind-changing for those who read it on first release. Did this novel help bring about the legalisation of male homosexuality? It would have done if enough people read it.

There are no descriptions of sex in this novel. The reader knows when it happens, the omittance is not prudish. The only other concession to the public morality of the time is that characters are given childhood traumas as 'reasons' for their homosexuality.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favourite books, ever. 4 Jan 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I was given this book by a friend after a conversation in a cafe, where she suddenly asked me if I had read The Charioteer, so I opened it and began to read without even looking at the back cover to see anything about it, knowing I would find our conversation in it or something relevant to it. The second chapter caught my attention for itself, Mary Renault writes 'well' and I think this story is her best and most polished. I found it deeply moving and readable and delicately poised. Its charisma stayed with me after I had finished it. I don't really want to say anything about the subject or the 'plot' because I was so charmed to come to it without anything, and the precis on the dust jacket afterwards struck me as being misleading and rather irrelevant. To me it was one of those simple 'human stories' that transpose into many keys, beautifully written and seen, delightful and thought provoking. Of itself.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars an old friend
through Amazon I received a copy of The Charioteer in record time from the US. Although not the first printing it is an excellent copy and I was able to reread my favourite book in... Read more
Published 8 months ago by jonathan clift
4.0 out of 5 stars A love story first, and a gay novel second
Written in 1953, this is one of the first British novels which wrote about gay love in an unconcealed and uncoded way. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Roman Clodia
5.0 out of 5 stars captures the period artfully
This is very different from her classical Greece books but appealed to our group because it was set in our city but in the time of the Second World War. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Mr. D. P. Jay
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing about this book is bad
Mary Renault is a sublimely poetical writer and at every reread I find more subtle allusions and more undercurrents just waiting to be uncovered. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Lindsay Duff
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting WWII gay man's story
A story of gay love during World War II [no explicit sex if that is what you are after!] Sad in many ways this tale of a wounded soldier who has fond memories of a senior at school... Read more
Published on 4 Mar 2012 by Downsman
5.0 out of 5 stars An unusual and memorable novel
I first read this at nineteen. It was recommended by a gay friend, who, when I enthused about it, said: Yes, but there's a lot wrong with it, like the way Ralph despises drag and... Read more
Published on 28 Nov 2011 by Provincial Lady
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and tender
After following Laurie Odell at various stages through his youth, including a significant meeting with Ralph Lanyon, at nineteen some three years his senior, his Head of House at... Read more
Published on 20 July 2011 by Benjamin
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful
One of my absolute favourite novels of all time. Mary Renault doesn't waste a single word, and she has the immense skill of saying just as much by what she doesn't say as what she... Read more
Published on 6 April 2011 by Kate
5.0 out of 5 stars Original Version, Later Revised (and Improved)
THE CHARIOTEER, the sixth and last of Mary Renault's modern-day novels (most of it takes place in 1940) was first published by Longmans, Green & Co Ltd in 1953, with this... Read more
Published on 7 Mar 2011 by Nicholas A. Deutsch
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, delicate and spiritual...
I've always loved Mary Renault's Ancient Greece novels, particularly her Alexander trilogy. She's such a wonderful writer - her portrayal of the relationship between Alexander and... Read more
Published on 28 Nov 2010 by C. Ball
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