The Charioteer

The Charioteer

by Mary Renault


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Charioteer 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
dearreaderCT More than 1 year ago
This is Mary Renault's classic novel, which is based on a theme from Plato' 'Phaedarus'. The two horses of the chariot, one black the other white, have to discover for themselves that they are meant for one another. It is a difficult journey, set in austere, wartime Britain, in an around hospitals. Readers have to be patient, because the novel takes a while to 'warm up', but the wait is worthwhile. Fate, the Charioteer, takes his two characters through encounters and many situations until they realize the direction that is meant for them. Unlike modern novels, Mary Renault's book has a literary quality about it which makes it a more enriching read. The final section almost gallops, and was most touching. The two protagonists discover their true natures in the cold climate of wartime and hostile attitudes.
songcatchers More than 1 year ago
The Charioteer is the story of Laurence "Laurie" Odell and his plight as a soldier and gay man in WWII Britain. Beautifully written in 1959 this book is heartfelt and truly a classic.

Laurie Odell is a wounded soldier sent to a veterans' hospital when his leg is nearly blown off at Dunkirk. The hospital is short on nursing staff so a group of conscientious objectors are sent to fill of them being Andrew Raynes. Laurie falls for Andrew almost immediately and they become fast friends and spend as much time together as possible...even though some of the other soldiers begin to talk. At about the same time, Laurie is reunited with an old schoolmate named Ralph. At the beginning of the book, Ralph was expelled from school for "immoral" behavior. Ralph is now a naval admiral who is also recovering from wounds....and happily getting reacquainted with Laurie. Laurie is young and still in the process of accepting himself for who he is. He is in love with both Andrew and Ralph and is struggling to come to terms.

Mary Renault writes this book with honesty and passion. Her characters are laid bare by their very human emotions; jealousy, love, fear and loneliness. At it's core is a love story but it's descriptions of blackouts, bombings and air raids reminds us that it takes place during a brutal war. At the hospital, bringing pacifists and soldiers together, Renault sets the stage for a secondary thematic. The Charioteer is a book to be savored, and to get the most out of the characters, to be read again and again
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is so awesome because the character is so well expressed that we can identify him and understand him. Read this book and you will learn to have more compassion and feeling for people who are different than the norm. Laurie is so real to me and I love the fact that he doesn't give up his beliefs to satisfy society and his friends. He sticks up for his personal beliefs and feelings and that is inspiring!!!
lycomayflower on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A novel written in the 50s and set in the early years of World War II, The Charioteer focuses on Laurie Odell, a wounded survivor of Dunkirk who finds himself falling in love with both a young conscientious objector who works on Laurie's hospital ward and an old school acquaintance now in the navy. The novel is nicely thinky and displays a good deal of fascinating interiority for Laurie as he wrestles with his feelings for these men. An enjoyable story, well written (though it did drag a bit in parts), and an important one, too. My chief complaint (the thing that holds me back from declaring this a five-star, all-time favorite) was that characters seemed very often to realize things or intuit meanings into interactions, events, or facial expressions and those meanings were never made clear to the reader. A certain amount of subtlety is generally welcome in a literary novel, but this tendency rose to an irritating level and seemed almost coy at times. I wondered if perhaps Renault was attempting to capture the reality of living as a homosexual in a time and a society when one must always take care over what one says and how one behaves and must carefully infer to whom it is safe to reveal ones true self. I never could decide one way or the other if I thought that was Renault's goal, and either way, I think it detracts a bit from the novel as a reading experience. (Though the notion of trying to infuse the novel with this sense of secrecy and illicit subculture is compelling.) Despite this flaw, highly recommended.
Rubygarnet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mary Renault cured me of the homophobia my upbringing had instilled in me. Which doesn't tell you much about this most excellent book, I admit, but which is my deepest emotional response to it, gratitude and praise for how it cured me of ugly bigotry with its multifaceted beauty.
ocgreg34 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Laurie Odell convalesces in a Dunkirk hospital after survivor a terrible leg injury during WWII. While spending his days recuperating and chatting up war events and the families back home with the other injured soldiers in his ward, he meets Andrew Raynes, a young conscientious objector who works as an orderly at the hospital. They strike up a friendship, meeting sometimes late at night in the hospital kitchen to chitchat or spending an hour or two on walks in the surrounding countryside.But just as Laurie begins to find the intimations of a relationship forming, from out of his past steps Ralph Lanyon. They attended school together, but as Laurie soon finds out, it was Lanyon who pulled him to safety after his leg was injured during combat. Through Lanyon's friends, Laurie finds himself drawn into the gay life around Dunkirk, a somewhat darker and grittier version than what he's been imagining with Andrew, and soon Laurie finds himself faced with deciding between the two men.Mary Renault's "The Charioteer" provides an interesting glimpse into gay life in England during WWII, and, for once, the noel doesn't end with one of the gay characters committing suicide or dying because of his gayness. All the characters are well-drawn and give voice to the differing aspects of gay life at the time: the quiet, confused man just learning about his sexuality; the jaded, bitter individuals who don't want anyone to be happy if they can't be, also; the regular guy, who no one would even know to be gay, but who lives his life like everyone else. I enjoyed the interactions of all the characters because they came across as normal, every day actions rather than "oh, look what the gay people are dong!"The novel is a great read and doesn't make any apologies for its straightforward portrayal of the lives of gay men during WWII. Highly recommended.
kougogo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Charioteer I think belongs to a different generation of gay writing. Laurie's pre-occupations and anxieties, while still emotions gay men (and women) cope with, have a kind of distance to them. I think this, paradoxically, makes the novel more prescient. The consequences of Laurie's indecision can be predicted, but this doesn't make it less moving. Or less frustrating and tragic when they come to fruition. In this moral universe, love is a compromise. An allowance made. A step taken reluctantly. Love is not romantic. If this sounds depressing, it is because it's true.
narwhaltortellini on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I hate commenting on books smarter than I am.Everyone seems to read The Persian Boy first, but this is actually my first Mary Renault book. Her reputation is certainly well earned. The prose has a sort of heavily thoughtful style, a lot more narration of ideas and memories turning around inside the character's head than I'm used to with most books. But the writing is not boring or detached, instead full of intense feelings, intelligence, and perceptiveness. I felt almost rude waltzing so easily into thoughts so personal sometimes the character doesn't even entirely understand their meaning.I'm not feeling much sport in saying what makes this book good, but I would like to say... This is a story about love, and knowing yourself. It's not really a romance, if it's possible you thought that. It's main characters are complex, subtle people, and the book does justice to the fact that there's an awful lot more to love than infatuation and sexual attraction. Some of the things in it are sweet and touching, but mostly this is an exploration of love and identity. Consequently, it wasn't always all that gripping from scene to scene. It could certainly be intense. When I was actually reading I as quite interested. But it wasn't really a hugely entertaining read, and it didn't leave me with any yummy warm satisfied feelings inside, or anything like that. (...I wish I could read an actual romance that was this emotionally realistic. Keheh, in the end, I'm still just a yaoi fangirl at heart.) The writing is wonderful, and you'd have to use some seriously pointed sticks to keep me from reading another Mary Renault book in the future. I suppose this just isn't the kind of thing that sweeps me away, personally.
markprobst on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Charioteer is the kind of storytelling that doesn¿t exist any more in the modern literary world. There¿s barely any plot, but instead an exploration of emotions, self-discovery, and desires. It¿s written in the style of utmost literary propriety, rather than that of modern colloquialism, which makes for lovely prose but a much more difficult read. I often found myself re-reading sentences two or three times to fully grasp the meaning.For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it is set in England in 1940. Laurie is a 23-year-old soldier convalescing from a serious leg wound in a veteran¿s hospital. He befriends a young conscientious objector/pacifist/Quaker, Andrew, working there as an orderly. Laurie understands the sexual undercurrent of their friendship, but Andrew does not. Then through a circumstance of fate, an old school chum, Ralph, enters the picture. He¿s a naval captain who has just lost his command and is now part of a small clique of gay men, most for whom he feels contempt though he relies on their communal support. Ralph, who has developed a dependence on alcohol to counter the effects of the war, finds in Laurie a salvation, while Laurie finds his love divided between two men. One with whom that love can be fully realized, and the other which must be protected and kept chaste, lest it be destroyed. What makes The Charioteer such a masterwork, is that Mary Renault found an ingenious way to infer a hidden meaning to so much of her text. As this was first published in 1953 when the literary world was not ready for full-on descriptions of homosexuality, I don¿t know whether she actually wrote more, and was censored by her superiors, or if she instinctively knew just how much she could get away with without crossing the line. A discerning reader can pick up all the little cues and know exactly what is missing.The wonderful depth is all due to the character development. Laurie and Ralph are real-life human beings. Andrew less so, but that is because he is relegated to the supporting cast. Every bit of dialog, every physical movement, every thought (and there are some lovely flourishes of humor in Laurie¿s stray thoughts) plays to perfection without a single false note. The yearnings, fears, confusion and joys are absolutely genuine and I wouldn¿t trade a second of it for a slam-bang action-oriented plot. For anyone professing to be a student of seminal gay fiction, or historical gay fiction, The Charioteer is imperative reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
¿The Charioteer¿ is one of the most beautiful love stories I have ever read, I hadn¿t felt such intense emotions reading a book since my adolescence. Before and much more than being a gay story, this is first of all a novel about love, showing in a most powerful way how all life is a struggle to love and to be loved, because only by giving and receving love one can feel alive and life is meaningful and worth being lived. The three main characters, each of them absolutely fascinating and superbly portrayed, discover and are confronted with their own true nature when falling in love, but they also have to make choices and take on responsibilities which often seem unbearable. Love is shown through all its sweetness and romance but also in all its terribly dramatic implications: love always means suffering and none of the characters is spared his share of pain and defeat. But the force of life triumphs despite everyone¿s conflicts, limitations and mistakes, which must be coped with and accepted in mutual respect and forgiveness. The young protagonists are brought to life in an amazingly effective way and they are so vivid and forceful that they outlive the end of the book itself. The reader can share their most intimate thoughts and the decisive turns of their lives and is therefore bound to feel strong compassion. I am not surprised that a lot of readers wish there had a been a sequel of the novel, but I believe the author did the right thing not writing one. The end of the story leaves very open prospects and, especially considering the circular structure the novel acquires at its conclusion, all the characters are liable to being again together in their maturity and it is better to let the reader imagine possible evolutions. Yet, I perfectly agree with one of the reviewers that it¿s very hard to part from Laurie, Andrew and Ralph after finishing the novel. The narrative scheme is very solid and well balanced, all parts of the book contribute to light up the whole plot; the text flows slowly but continuously and once you adapt yourself to the inner rhythm of the story you are fully involved and almost become a part of it, each line adding a relevant detail or setting the suitable atmosphere to lead you deeper into the characters¿ inner thoughts and feelings; the language is rich though never mannered and the style is often very poetic but never in a cheap way. ¿The Charioteer¿ certainly stands also as a great gay story and is very effective in demonstrating the universality of love, which transcends lovers¿ genders and social barriers. Its explict homosexual theme is all the more surprising if one thinks the book was written almost fifty years ago, when to state that love between two men has the same dignity as heterosexual love was certainly a hard challenge, and that it was written by a woman, as the protagonists are absolutely and coherently credible and masculine in their appearance and psychology. Reading ¿The Charioteer¿ can be a heart-wrenching experience and cause to shed more than one tear, especially if one is in love, but it also makes one feel more attached to the beauty of life and long for youth and pure, noble, authentic love, the most important of all things. This novel and its appealing characters, Laurie, Andrew and Ralph, will always remain in my mind and heart as wonderful companions of my youth, revealers of the complexity and fragility of the human soul and of myself, an important landmark in the search for my identity of adult gay man.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I finished this book last night and felt as if I couldn't bear the thought of leaving Laurie and Ralph and Andrew. The book brings to life Plato's famous allegory of the soul as the charioteer, and because it is one of Renault's few contemporary novels, brings it home (somewhat) for the modern reader. Reading this book has changed me.