Review by K.P. Ambroziak
***but read The Iliad, too!!***
I read this a year ago and just re-read it. It’s amazing how much of a difference a year makes. I loved it the first time I read it. (What’s not to love?) But this time I admired it. There’s a beauty to it that I can’t quite describe. Maybe it’s a little like Somax’s beast, Beauty. You’re immediately drawn into the tale, forced to notice it. The prose it subtly poetic and there’s a meditative quality to the story. This almost feels like a bedtime story, if that makes sense. Malouf takes a snippet of time in a gargantuan lapse, zooms in, and somehow makes it overflow.
Okay, I’m a HUGE fan of Homer. I know both the epics inside and out. I’ve read them, I’ve heard them, I’ve taught them, but Malouf gets at something here I never sensed in the source material. Perhaps it’s a matter of leveling it. I mean bringing it down low, almost like the way Priam removes his crown and becomes “an ordinary man” for this task. There’s something run-of-the-mill here that works. It’s not dramatic. It’s touching. Achilles, too, is razed. Malouf does this lovely job of hinting at his brutish and violent behavior while making him broken and empathetic. One of the more touching moments is the exchange at the gates as Priam leaves. “Call on me, Priam, when the walls of Troy are falling around you, and I will come to your aid,” Achilles tells him. Priam’s answer chills him, and the two share a godly moment. The future is already sewn. They both seem to know the truth of the matter.
Malouf examines the father/son dynamic from many angles. Even Neoptolemus gets to avenge his father, as the story goes. But I think the most challenging moments come when Somax/Idaeus speaks of his own loss with such expressive feeling. Priam realizes he’s not had the same experience with the death of his sons. And yet here he is risking everything to get Hector’s body back. You know this is about something more than honor in death. This may be the first time he’s felt some kind of kinship for any of his fifty-ish sons. But why? Those of us who know the epics and their mythology can guess why Hector is so important to Troy and essentially Priam — he’s godly. But you have to wonder if Priam does. He seems defeated, almost dragged into this scheme by some otherworldly presence (which he is essentially).
It’s times like these I wish I was in a book club headed up by someone as brilliant in the classics as Daniel Mendelsohn. This is a topic I could discuss for days …
Book Title: Ransom
Author: David Malouf