Monday, November 22, 2010

Three recent novels--Ancient Greece

I've just finished reading three novels set in the ancient world of Greece and legendary Troy.  These recently published titles, two by first time authors and one by a veteran were enjoyable and worthy additions to my ever expanding collection of historical fiction.  The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason, Ransom by David Malouf and The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon are fine examples of the genre.  All three are short novels with unique perspectives, crisp writing and themes that continue to resonate in my mind. 

Zachary Mason's, The Lost Books of the Odyssey pays homage to the Homeric epic tale of the long and wild trek home to Ithaca faced by Odysseus and his crew, by offering 44 imagined endings and stories long lost.  The book is gripping from the first to last page and a novel I didn't want to ever end. 

Not only a fabulous read but also a a future "collectible".  The Farrar, Strauss and Giroux edition is actually a second edition.  The first edition was released by Starcherone Books of Buffalo, New York in 2008 as the winning submission in a competition for new authors.  That led to Mason being a finalist the New York Library Young Lions Fiction  award  in 2009, interest from major publishers and the new edition from Farrar.  I just ordered one of three copies of the Starcherone Books edition I found for sale.

Ransom by David Malouf, considered by many Australia's greatest living writer, is a powerful novel.  The ransom of the title is that offered by Troy's King Priam to Greece's champion Achilles for the return of Priam's son, champion of Troy, Hector, killed by Achilles in single combat.  The death of Hector by Achilles and his desecration of Hector's body for days after, is one of the most horrific episodes of the Trojan War.  By focusing on the ransom, perhaps a first such in the ancient world, Malouf explores the horrors of war from a most unique viewpoint.  I'm not familiar with Malouf and now, after Ransom, I look forward to reading more of his work.

The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon was a must read for me.  Any author willing to tackle the relationship of Aristotle and Alexander the Great wins attention and priority status on my reading list.  While I enjoyed the read, I have mixed feelings about the novel.  As a novel, the writing was polished, brisk, and entertaining.  As an exploration of the relationship between Aristotle and his most famous student, Alexander the Great, I was not thrilled.  Yes, the theme of moderation was clearly present but the sexual beast, Aristotle and the sociopath young Alexander was a bit overdone.  Probably the easiest of the three to read but the one that I found most difficult to completely embrace.


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