four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
46-May-June-2010
By: 
David Malouf
user_rating: 
0

A-RansomDavid Malouf's wide-ranging bibliography includes poetry collections, short stories, librettos, and award-winning fiction. His 1993 novel, Remembering Babylon, was honored with an International Dublin Literary Award and a Los Angeles Times Book Award.

The Story: Inspired by Homer's epic poem, The Iliad, and its climactic scene, Malouf weaves a tale of grief and loss from both sides of the Trojan War. Hector, the beloved prince of Troy, has killed the Greek soldier Patroclus--Achilles' boyhood friend--in battle. Achilles, devastated by the loss and overcome with vengeance, slays Hector and, disregarding the tradition of returning him to his royal family for burial, he drags his corpse across the battlefield for endless days and nights. Also overwhelmed with grief is Hector's father, old King Priam of Troy, who sets off for the Greek camp to negotiate a ransom for his son's body.
Pantheon. 224 pages. $24. ISBN: 9780307378774

Oregonian 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Ransom boasts all of Malouf's capacious talents for imagination, for grace of line and image (he has written seven books of poetry), and for lean and piercing storytelling that made his novel An Imaginary Life and his boyhood memoir 12 Edmondstone Street such admirable adventures. ... A remarkable feat." Brian Doyle

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"[A]n eloquent and deeply moving tale of war, kingship, fatherhood, our common mortal lot, and--not incidentally--the enduring power of a good story. ... Every sentence sings." Bill Marvel

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Malouf doesn't exploit Homer's Iliad; he fully respects its majesty and at the same time fulfills his own deep need to link the distant past to the terrors of the present. Ransom is a joy to read."Tony Lewis

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"While Malouf can write brilliantly in the ‘low' register of a Somax or describe nature with a Wordsworthian attentiveness, he is equally convincing in suggesting the grave diction of epic, as when Priam reflects on what the immortal gods can never experience--the sweetness inherent in our transient human lives, but also the sorrow." Michael Dirda

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"On page after page the prose is specific and noble, an unusual mix since nobility usually depends on generalities, and the specific usually deflates grandeur. But sometimes--not often!--the diction becomes stiff." Edmund White

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]he addition of the earthy episode with Somax is not entirely successful: It diminishes somewhat the stark pathos of Priam's body-retrieval mission. ... Still, the final scenes nicely capture the volatile intimacy that develops between Achilles and Priam." Timothy Farrington

Critical Summary

David Malouf is widely regarded as one of Australia's greatest living novelists, and Ransom sits well alongside the rest of his work. With simple, graceful prose, cinematic descriptions, and a deeply ingrained respect for two grieving heroes, Malouf both enhances and venerates Homer's ancient epic. And while the Wall Street Journal critic felt that Somax, King Priam's cart driver, was a glib addition, others disagreed, calling him "a creation of genius, like one of those Shakespearean peasants full of good humor and even better sense" (Dallas Morning News). Ultimately, reviewers described Ransom as a standout book and a prime example of beautiful, old-fashioned storytelling.