Van has finished reading…The Last Of The Wine by Mary Renault

6 Nov

‘I saw death reach out for you; and I had no philosophy.’

Fixing the voice of a character is something that any strives to do. Getting it right is a tricky business indeed but as reader you just know when it’s right. It goes beyond the words chosen and the way they’re delivered. Instead you’re left almost feeling that you could’ve felt in that character the very thought that brought them to the lips. In a book of many good lines the one above stopped me in my tracks (though not in a bad way). Lovers Alexias and Lysis, having lately quarrelled, like petulant children fall to rashness. On seeing Alexias nearly lose his life, Lysis delivers the line above. So much more than ‘I thought you were going to die’, it frames their lives, couches the very core of all they strive to be as modern Athenians, and so stamps indelibly the depth of their relationship. This is a writer inhabiting the world on her page by inhabiting her cast.

This is historical fiction, both in a grand sense and in small scale. It’s possible to date the period quite specifically (the plague during which Alexias was born around 429BC; Alkibiades at Phrygia around 404BC) and I’m sure many a classical scholar would have picked over the bones of this novel to either confirm or deny the detail it contains (I’ve seen no evidence of denial anywhere). I’m no classical scholar but a lack of knowledge around the period didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story. Indeed, I suspect that any knowledge of the period would only have served to heighten the enjoyment of reading. Mary Renault’s knack, it seems to me, lies in mapping the grand sweep of history through the minutiae of the lives she portrays. I can well imagine that classical scholars, excited as they are by the cold hard facts they study, can only feel the blood quicken at how vivid these lives are.
No wonder there’s a phalanx of writers ready to praise the stories Mary Renault has left with us. Thanks to The Curtis Brown Book Group, I’ll be seeking out more of her books in the future.

The Last Of The Wine was reissued by Virago Modern Classic on 6th August 2015 ISBN: 9781844089611

2 Responses to “Van has finished reading…The Last Of The Wine by Mary Renault”


  1. The #CBBookGroupie playlist | vanisreading - 09/02/2016

    […] & Lysis’s Theme, The Last of the Wine by Mary […]

  2. A Q & A with Janet Ellis, author of The Butcher’s Hook | vanisreading - 29/02/2016

    […] – but as a child I adored Black Beauty, I really loved Joan Aiken, Alan Garner, Rumer Godden, Mary Renault and Daphne du Maurier. I could go on. I’m (very) flattered by the allusion to Dickens, his […]

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