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!

Goodreads: The Praise Singer by Mary Renault

I joined Goodreads a few days ago. It's a social networking site guessed it...people who like reading books.

Writing reviews is not my thing, but Goodreads encourages it as you add books to your reading list, so as an experiment I did this review. The system automatically generates the HTML to put the review in your own blog, so here 'tis.

The Praise Singer The Praise Singer by Mary Renault

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mary Renault's series of Greek novels are an amazing rendition of the Greek world, and of them all I think The Praise Singer is possibly the best. Simple and direct, with vivid detail, it tells the life story of the poet Simonides.

Simonides lived at a time of great upheaval: the period when the great tyrants of Hellas were falling, and Athens began her first important steps to democracy. Simonides' long life meant he was there for the Persian Wars, and he is credited by some with the famous epitaph over the graves of the fallen at Thermopylae, though interestingly Renault has it otherwise in her version.

If I have any criticism to make of her books, it is that they concentrate heavily on the people, so that someone who isn't familiar with Greek history might not fully appreciate the important events unfolding about the characters. But you can't have everything, and she certainly delivers on what she promises. Read this book for a good look at life in ancient Greece, seen through the eyes of a great poet, as written by a great writer.

View all my reviews.