Mary Renault

I regularly refer in my posts to the historical author Mary Renault, usually in close association with adjectives such as brilliant, amazing, fantastic etc.

Mary Renault was the first person to write ancient Greek historical novels. If you don't count Homer, that is, and frankly, it's a toss up which of them is the better writer, especially since she's much more accessible to the modern reader. I don't always agree with the way she portrays some of the history, but there's no doubting the scholarship or the quality of the writing.

Renault began her Greek books in the 1950s and produced one every 3 or 4 years. But they're not a series. In each she picks an important period in Greek history and then writes an eyewitness account.

If you haven't read any of her books, please give one a go!

Our friend Robert Greaves sent me an email a short while ago with a link to a blog called The Toynbee convector. To my shame I'd never heard of it before; now that I have, I've added it to my list of must-read blogs. The current post has an embedded youtube video which is the beginning of a BBC documentary about Mary Renault. It reflects my own view so well that I'm linking it here too.

Thank you to Toynbee convector for finding that!


RWMG said...

Sorry, Gary, but Mary Renault wasn't the first. Beyond Renault has a list of novels featuring Alexander the Great year by year since 1920.

I'm not sure if it would count as a historical novel or fantasy, but in 1890 H. Rider Haggard and Andrew Lang wrote The World's Desire, a sequel to the Odyssey, which also served as a prequel to She.

Amalia T. said...

I have Mary Renault's books on Theseus one my wishlist--just haven't picked them up yet. I really need to though!

I don't know if you've heard anything about this War of the Gods movie that's supposed to be coming out sometime in the next couple of years, but apparently Theseus is leading people into a war against the Titans (Clash of the Titans rip off?) and I'm a little bit concerned for his character. We shall see!

Stephanie Thornton said...

I know you told me to read Renault. I've been wracking my brain to think if I have, but I'm pretty sure I've never picked any of her books up. Now I'm going to have to.

Which should I read first?

David J. West said...

I have just recently started "The Bull From The Sea".

Kosmos said...

I still love re reading "The Persian Boy".

Thanks for posting the video :)

Gary Corby said...

So now I've learnt something! I can see I have some pre-Renault reading to do. Thanks Robert, I had no idea.

Amalia, I haven't heard anything about a War of the Gods. But if Theseus is taking on the Titans then there are a few accuracy problems. Wouldn't you think he'd done enough anyway to keep a scriptwriter happy?

Which Renault book would I read first? You can read them in almost any order. I think my faves would be The Praise Singer and The Mask of Apollo, which are classical, but I know plenty of people who prefer the ones set in earlier times. Fire From Heaven is the beginning of three about the life of Alexander.

She also wrote a non-fiction called The Nature of Alexander, which would probably appeal to historian types.

RWMG said...

One of the things I always look forward to from the Toynbee Convector are his posts of translations of Cavafy's poems set in the ancient world. Although I could just indulge myself at the Cavafy website, I enjoy just having one pop up every now and again.

Lexi said...

I became hooked by Mary Renault (she pronounced it Renolt, btw, not like the car) when I was twelve and read The Bull from the Sea. The older I get, the more I appreciate just how good she was. My great regret is that I never wrote her a fan letter before she died. (I didn't want to bother her - but now I write myself, I realize she'd have been pleased).

She was the author who stopped me skipping descriptions - hers are so brief yet vivid - and, in The Mask of Apollo, gave me some understanding of politics. The Bull from the Sea makes me cry in three places each time I read it.

A great writer; her books are hugely enjoyable.

Gary Corby said...

Thanks Lexi, and welcome to the blog! I didn't know about the pronounciation, but now that you mention it, that does sound rather English, doesn't it?

You have an interesting blog, by the way!

Lexi said...

Thank you - and I should have said, I picked up a fondness for semi colons from Mary Renault.

Gary Corby said...

I'm rather fond of semi-colons myself; I picked it up from Patrick O'Brian's books; he being able to make a sentence float forever; unlike me.

alejandro said...

Mary loved Patrick O'Brien's books, they wrote to each other about historical fiction. I can't remember which, but O'Brien dedicated one of his novels to her, as "my Athena." It's not set in ancient Greece, but a precursor to her Greek novels, as well as my personal favourite. I highly recommend The Charioteer.

Gary Corby said...

Hi Alejandro,

That's interesting. I knew Renault had supported O'Brien, but I thought he always dedicated his books to his wife.