86. The King Must Die, Mary Renault (1958)

I never feel like I love Mary Renault quite as much as I ought to. I mean, she’s got so much going for her: mid-century pioneering lesbian author of lavish historical epics, really interesting life story embracing war work and anti-apartheid stuff in South Africa, knew everyone. Her books were knocking around the house when I grew up, but for some reason I couldn’t get into them. I’ve read quite a few in more recent years, though, and this is my favourite. It’s pretty straightforward: the life of the mythological Greek hero Theseus from childhood to kinghood, with lots of fantastical episodes along the way. Somehow Renault manages to make the story both physically and psychologically plausible, and breathes life into what might otherwise have been an academic exercise with a lush sense of carnality. It’s not one of her queerer books – that comes elsewhere – but it’s a good solid bit of storytelling that knocks most historical fiction into a cocked hat. Generally speaking, it’s a genre I avoid. Am I missing out?



Filed under My top 100 novels

4 responses to “86. The King Must Die, Mary Renault (1958)

  1. Nick Clark

    Not sure that you are missing out, Rupert, but I read several of Renault’s books in my early teens, along with other authors of historical fiction (like Henry Treece). I was rather lacking in discrimination (pretty much working my way along the school library shelves), and remained rubbish at history, but enjoyed the sense of immersion in another age. I am not sure how well they would stand up to scrunity if I re-read them now, but I look back on them with fondness.
    Am enjoying your list, and wondering how you find the time to keep it going.


  2. ross parsons

    The King must Die? and not The Persian Boy, or even The Charioteer? I am aghast, horrified. Its handbags at dawn I’m afraid.

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