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on 20 May 2015
There's nothing that I can add to the many , far more eloquent reviews on this book- but- I've read and re-read it many times and each time found another layer revealed. It's a beautiful, slow moving and very tender portrayal of a man trying to lead a moral life and be true to himself. If you like multi layered, allegorical and complex writing than you’ll love this. I loved every word of Renault 's spare, elegant sometimes oblique writing and certainly count this as one of my favourite books ever.
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on 19 September 2015
Fascinating account and ahead of its time. Really rated this book.
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on 15 July 2015
should be covered by 6th form in schools
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on 16 January 2016
an old fashioned,but beautifully crafted narrative about homosexual love in the 1940s.. written in sympathy.Mary Renault truly understood this pure but unacceptable love,not so long ago!
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on 2 August 2015
Imaginatively written. Compelling
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 February 2014
This novel was published fifty years ago and has now been given the status of a gay classic. It's a sensitive, psychological study of a triangular relationship set on the home front during the second world war, starring Laurie, a young soldier recovering from a shattered leg in hospital, Andrew, a hospital orderly and conscientious objector with whom he is in love throughout the book, and Ralph, a seaman, who once saved his life at Dunkirk and who is in love with Laurie too. The book is about Laurie's moral and emotional journey towards an understanding of himself, his needs and desires as a gay man, and of those closest to him. It's also an evocation of the shadowy climate of concealment, prejudice and the fear of exposure in which such men were forced to live during those dark times.

In a generous introduction to this new edition, the actor Simon Russell Beale tells us how important such novels were to men of his generation, hungrily looking for an affirmation of who they were and what was good and noble about their (criminalised) feelings. It was a brave novel to write. Countless gay men of the time must have been deeply grateful for it.

It's a compelling read; the story, the characterisation and the setting is strong, one cares strongly about what happens to the main characters (though Andrew is underplayed in contrast to the other two). There are a host of interesting minor characters too - Reg, the working-class friend of Laurie; Mr Straike, Laurie's pompous stepfather; Mervyn, the little boy he befriends in the next hospital bed; Nurse Adrian (also in love with Laurie - why weren't her feelings foregrounded too?); not to mention the crowd of gay men whom Laurie encounters at a gay party early on, his entrée to a gay world he does not feel part of.

But time has revealed some serious flaws. Even allowing for the circumspection required of gay authors then, it's strangely obscure in many of its situations and conversation, as other reviewers have noted here. I was often left scratching my head wondering what was being alluded to or left unsaid. The action is mostly set in hospital wards: this has the subliminal - and unintentional - effect of saying: look what a sick world these people live in. This is compounded by making both heroes - Laurie and Ralph - physically as well as psychologically damaged, again symbolically saying: these are not whole men, their lives are blighted forever. Was Renault aware of the effect of this? I doubt it; but it's there. In addition, a lot of soul-searching introspection goes on; gay people are divided into the reprehensible (the queers) or the noble (our heroes) - fair enough, as Beale says, but it still leaves a bad taste in the mouth. There is a claustrophobic feel about the whole narrative too - its like being in a big dusty room with all the shutters closed. For these reasons I was left feeling ambivalent about this book, admiring it rather than liking it.

But thank heavens we did not end with a doomy death, thus avoiding the depressing pattern of so many early gay novels - I was dreading that. One can argue about the eventual outcome - who will Laurie settle on, Andrew or Ralph? I, for one felt he'd made the wrong choice, but that's very much up for discussion - but the lead up to it, and the central importance of it, makes this, as Sarah Waters says, a deeply romantic book. The emphasis is on the search for love, not sex - which, not surprisingly though a little oddly, is largely absent from the account.

Judged by the standards of today's gay novels, this feels stiff, old-fashioned, tight-lipped, and limited, yet still with a lot of power and with something compelling about it. Judged by the standards of fifty years ago it must have seemed brave, inspiring, revolutionary, exciting, as well as deeply informative. Given this, it difficult to know how to place this novel. One thing I can say, though - read it. Virago were definitely right to reprint it.
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on 7 April 2014
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Beautifully written, Written in 1953 when homosexuallity was illegal in the Uk, it is the story of 3 men, survivors of D-Day who have to comet terms with their sexuality in a totally hostile environment . I first read it as a teenager and thought it was a lovely love story, reading it again as a world weary senior citizen I was s appalled at their problems and at the secretive and dangerous way they were force to live, Especially poignant as now gay church weddings and civil partnerships etc. After re-reading it on Kindle I fished out my battered 1950's paperback and was appalled to see the cover showed two of the characters portrayed as slightly feminine and the blurb saying the book was about "three men coming to terms with their unnatural love' How things have changed - thank God.
I still think its a lovely love story!
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on 18 February 2014
The writing was good but not stunning, though as a historical insight into gay life in wartime it's probably unique. I guess only a woman could have written it, since a man would probably have been arrested and certainly ostracised.
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on 13 December 2015
"The writing is ... often (perhaps of necessity) so oblique that its meaning is not infrequently impenetrable." So writes David Gladwell (q.v.) and so say I. Other reviewers mention this, but don't seem as bothered as myself. For me, it destroys the book's credibility. If you can't understand what is being said at the simplest - or indeed any - level, (surely a sine qua non?) then the book is a failure.
It is a great shame because the comprehensible parts of the narration are often insightful and interesting.
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on 22 February 2014
Yes, it's most assuredly of its time, the language will seem unfamiliar to modern readers as indeed will the classical references. Read it though, it's excellent.
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