Title: The Charioteer: A Modern Love Story
Author: Mary Renault
Genre: Historical Fiction, LGBT Fiction, World War II, Early 20th Century
Stars: **** (4)
Summary: Laurie Odell, injured during World War II, is transferred to a veterans hospital. There he meets and falls in love with a Quaker Hospital attendant, Andrew Raynes, an innocent young man who hasn’t figured himself out yet. To complicate matters fate brings back into his life an old school friend, Ralph Lanyon, who is familiar with the pitfalls of being gay during that era and also develops feelings for him. Laurie, healing from his injury and at the crossroads of his life, must now make choices that will have a profound impact on his future.
Review: Woven within this modern love story are references to Greek mythology and Plato’s Phaedrus showing that the human experience, especially the experience of love, transcends time and culture. Renault uses her lyrical style of writing to pack symbolism, hidden meanings, and innuendo into each page of the text. She reveals the hidden world of homosexual relationships during World War II filled with interpersonal drama. It is also a novel of self-discovery and finding ones place in the world, especially when the discovery leads to a moral dilemma and criminality (as it was at the time). The three main characters are at very different points in their lives at the start of the novel. Laurie is at a point right between discovery of why he feels different and acceptance of himself. Ralph is comfortable in, knowledgeable about, and has experience with different facets of homosexual relationships and community. Andrew is completely blind about his inclinations and is just beginning to realize he is different. Not only is Renault able to show a whole spectrum of experience through these three characters but the story takes on a life of its own as their three lives collide and intertwine. It is an amazing novel, don’t let the four stars fool you, but after reading the magnificence that are some of her other works, this one doesn’t seem as refined as her later novels. However, as I said, still completely and utterly brilliant.