Ransom Hardcover – 5 Nov 2009
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'A masterpiece, exquisitely written, pithy and wise and overwhelmingly moving, constructed with invisible, successful craft.'
-- Alberto Manguel, Australian Literary Review
'Australia's Finest Writer' -- The Weekend Australian
'In austere, elegant prose David Malouf has created in Ransom an imaginative terrain that is both new and old' -- The Age
'It shines new light on this story of the Trojan War, adding twists as well as flashes of earthly humour'
'The sheer potency of this slim volume can hijack your senses and emotions' -- The Courier Mail
`Malouf's prose is marvellously alert to the natural world and endowed with a quality that has one name only: wisdom' -- The Sydney Morning Herald
`Malouf's prose is marvellously alert to the natural world and endowed with a quality that has one name only: wisdom'See all Product description
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`Dreams are subtle, shifting, they are meant to be read, not taken literally.'
At the end of the novel, Mr Malouf writes that the primary focus of the story is on storytelling itself: why stories are told and why we need to hear them; how stories get changed in the telling; and how much of what it has to tell are `untold tales' found only in the margins of earlier writers. It is possible to read the novel simply enjoying the story without wondering about these broader issues, but they add their own dimension to the writing. It is possible, too, to enjoy this novel without any detailed knowledge of the Iliad. In my case, at least, it stirs a revisiting of the world of the Iliad and probably of the Odyssey, to enjoy those legends anew.
`This old fellow, like most story tellers, is a stealer of other men's tales, of other men's lives.'
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, there's a fair bit of anger, grief 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. It's a slim novel and I would happily have spent more time with any of these characters.
Malouf writes in lovely, lyrical, economic prose (`the corpses he moves among: headless, limbless, savagely hacked, hovered about by ghostly exhalations and the fires of the dead'), and conveys atmosphere very well.
I guess my caveat about this book is that by expanding this single episode, Malouf is forced to spell out in harsh and explicit detail all that is so delicately suggested and layered in Homer's own text. For example, Achilles' confrontation with his own mortality (which he has already embraced in the Iliad from the early `embassy' scene), is here spelt out; as are his farewells to his own father, Peleus, and his son Neoptolemus, who he will never live to see arrive in Troy. This is a matter of personal taste but I prefer the suggested and the implied of Homer to having all of this spelt out for me.
So this is undoubtedly a well-crafted and emotional read. But does it do or say anything that isn't already done by the classical texts it evokes (Virgil's Aeneid, the Trojan plays of Euripides as well as Homer himself)? I don't really think so. If you have found Homer a difficult read (which may well be due to the translation - try Lattimore's version The Iliad) then this might be an excellent alternative. I'm afraid, for me, it just doesn't stand up to the breadth of humanity, the pathos, the emotional intensity and the sheer luminosity of Homer.
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