Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Persian Boy by Mary Renault #review

Title: The Persian Boy
Author: Mary Renault

Very few novels have moved me to tears in the end, but this was one of them. Mary Renault succeeds in capturing the depth and breadth of Bagoas’s abiding devotion to Alexander, and brings history to life.

Slow-moving as this story is, it nevertheless succeeded in capturing my imagination despite the fact that I knew more or less how the tale was supposed to go, and that there was no happy ending. And big-ass disclaimer: I don’t think this story is going to be to everyone’s taste. Perhaps what makes it the most for me is that we view imperfect characters (such as Alexander and his eternal love Hephaestion) through Bagoas’s no doubt more than slightly rose-tinted glasses.

Renault also gives the impression that Alexander incessantly made war because he was driven by the need to explore and dominate the world, and that conquering other nations was eventually his raison d’etre and the only thing that kept him motivated.

Yes, the writing is textured and at times flowery, but it was absolutely everything that I enjoy in a story, with slow world-building. Renault brings across sensuality without letting the story become smutty. So, yes, this is a love story. As life is sometimes brutal, in which all story arcs do not tie up neatly, I understand that the novel itself, in remaining true to history, doesn’t have an epic resolution.

Alexander, it can be said, goes out with a whisper and a sigh, rather than the roar of battle. But I am awed, and my imagination has been captured. I shall definitely be reading more of Renault’s works, and if I can capture even a part of her grace of style in my own writing, I shall consider myself fortunate.

1 comment:

  1. I'm on my 2nd Renault novel in less than two months. In November I read "Last of the Wine."

    Only gave it three stars on Amazon for other reasons. The writing style seemed clunky and the story was hard to follow. But I became so attached to the lead characters that I was compelled to read on. I cried at the end.

    I'm 100 pgs. into the Persian Boy and it is SIGNIFICANTLY better. I can see and keep up with what's going on, and the writing is less clunky.

    Currently at the part where King Darius has just been captured, and Bagoas stumbles into Nabarzanes, who plans to turn him over to Alexander.

    Renault also writes some of the most titillating and sexy "intimate scenes" without them ever feeling overly sentimental. And by her not being graphic with the sex scenes, they seem to become all the more sensual. Grossed out by poor little Bagoas having to please old King Darius, but loved Bagoas with Doriskos. So, let's see where the novel goes.

    But so far, she has created a fully realized character in Bagoas. It's almost frightening because he feels so concrete, like he could walk right through my front door. Dying to continue the book.

    And for writers, this novel is a treasure chest of writing technique. I specifically love how even though she's writing in summary, I still get the sense that I'm in a scene. Just very, very rich writing. A pleasure.