The Charioteer

Mary Renault

Longmans 1953
A book review by Danny Yee © 1995
Mary Renault is best known for her Greek historical novels — works such as Fire From Heaven, The Last of the Wine and The King Must Die. The Charioteer is conclusive evidence of what was already obvious: Renault is a great novelist, not "just" one of the outstanding historical novelists of all time. Set in England during World War Two, in the dark days after the retreat from Dunkirk, The Charioteer is a novel about love. A "novel about love" rather than a romance, because, although it is set in and around hospitals (drawing on Renault's own wartime experience), it is certainly not your typical hospital romance. Though it is very obviously a post-war English novel, The Charioteer has a certain timeless feel to it; the use of explicit links to Plato's Phaedrus, which would have seemed contrived in weaker hands, doesn't seem at all inappropriate. Those who appreciate Renault as a novelist, not just for her historical settings, should definitely not pass this one by.

January 1995

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