After enduring an injury at Dunkirk during World War II, Laurie Odell is sent to a rural veterans’ hospital in England to convalesce. There he befriends the young, bright Andrew, a conscientious objector serving as an orderly. As they find solace and companionship together in the idyllic surroundings of the hospital, their friendship blooms into a discreet, chaste romance. Then one day, Ralph Lanyon, a mentor from Laurie’s schoolboy days, suddenly reappears in Laurie’s life, and draws him into a tight-knit social circle of world-weary gay men. Laurie is forced to choose between the sweet ideals of innocence and the distinct pleasures of experience.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that my favourite book is The Charioteer by Mary Renault. I re-read it all the way through at least once a year and dip in and out of it, reading a few pages or scenes, on an almost weekly basis. “Charlie, you’re a sad woman,” you cry, and I might have to agree with you, but it’s like listening to a favourite piece of music. You listen again and again so why not read a particularly pleasing piece of prose as many times as you still find it pleasing?
But there’s more to it than that. I admire hugely Ms Renault’s ability to say so much in so few words. She inspires my writing, challenging me to say in one or two sentences what most writers take three pages to state. (Not just in this book – The Persian Boy and The Mask of Apollo are other examples of a brilliant author in action.) Her economy of prose and description is dazzling, and her characterisation matches one of my other author heroes, Patrick O’Brian. She doesn’t need to explain endlessly about somebody: a few words and snatches of dialogue and you picture them entirely.
Those “minor” characters are fascinating. You could write another full novel just about Alex and Sandy or Ralph and Bunny. Ms Renault is almost extravagant (like O’Brian again!) in giving us wonderful players on her stage, but using them in bit parts. If I had any complain about this book it would be that I’d like to know more, for example about Alex and Ralph’s relationship.
Of course, the setting – a barely disguised Bristol – is an attraction, it being a city I know and, incidentally, the venue for UK Meet 2014. http://ukglbtfictionmeet.co.uk/ Perhaps when we’re there we could walk around the old waterfront, retracing Ralph and Laurie’s footsteps, or try to find where some of the flats were located.
I’ve recently been listening to the abridged version, read by Anton Lesser, which has been the Radio 4 book at bedtime. It’s been a bit frustrating at times, its abbreviated nature meaning that some of my favourite scenes were cut, but overall it was a revelation. How could I find so many fresh nuances in a work I thought I knew so well? But that’s like hearing Shakespeare given life by an excellent actor – you re-interpret all sorts of things.
One last thing: I’d like to know what happened next. Happy ever after for Ralph and Laurie or only happy for now? And what becomes of Andrew? I have my own theory as to where the story goes after the last page is turned but I’ll keep my powder dry on it for now. That could be a whole other blog…
As Charlie Cochrane couldn’t be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice–like managing a rugby team–she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries, but she’s making an increasing number of forays into the modern day. She’s even been known to write about gay werewolves–albeit highly respectable ones.
She was named Author of the Year 2009 by the review site Speak Its Name but her family still regard her writing with a fond indulgence, just as she prefers.
Happily married, with a house full of daughters, Charlie tries to juggle writing with the rest of a busy life. She loves reading, theatre, good food and watching sport. Her ideal day would be a morning walking along a beach, an afternoon spent watching rugby and a church service in the evening.
An invitation to stay at a friend of the Stewart family’s stately home can only mean one thing for Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith — a new case for the amateur sleuths! With two apparently unrelated suicides, a double chase is on.
But things never run smoothly for the Cambridge fellows. In an era when their love dare not speak its name, the chance of discovery (and disgrace) is ever present — how do you explain yourself when a servant discovers you doing the midnight run along the corridor?
The chase stops being a game for Orlando when the case brings back memories of his father’s suicide and the search for the identity of his grandfather. And the solution presents them with one of the most difficult moral decisions they’ve had to make…