Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ransom by David Malouf


This book is like a prose poem written with emotive quicksilver instead of words. Meanings are hidden and sometimes changeable, but always inspiring sorrow, compassion and awe.

David Malouf pulls the reader through first Achilles', then Priam's grief after the deaths of Patrocles and Hector. Then with a cartload of treasure as ransom for Hector's body, the carter Somax drives King Priam of Troy through battlefields both real and metaphorical before returning with Hector and hope shrouded in the cart.

Malouf never gets sappy or sentimental and never suggests that the stories of Achilles and Priam will end well. We're shown how Priam dies in a somewhat invasive scene and Malouf suggests Achilles' end. But Somax does survive the sacking of Troy and his survival ensures, as much as Ulysses' tale, that the names of Patrocles, Hector, Achilles and Priam live on.

"Ransom" has a few oddities: Priam launches into a retelling of his personal history to his wife after acknowledging that she knows most of what he will tell her. In other words, the scene is entirely for the benefit of Malouf's presumably ignorant readers and annoyed me. However, with this much skill, Malouf could have woven in a recipe for Moussaka and I would have kept reading.

It's a short literary novel at just over 200 pages, but it is not a light-weight, "popcorn" read. If you're into easy action-oriented books, "Ransom" isn't for you. But if you love emotive, historical literature with gorgeous writing and introspective scenes, you won't be disappointed. You may well find yourself looking for more of Mr. Malouf's books at the local bookstore. I intend to.