The Charioteer by Mary Renault

Everyone has a favourite book, movie, song and other stuff. I have a special place in my heart for my favourite book. Every so often I revisit that special place, and my heart breaks all over again.

I can’t stop being in love with The Charioteer, and I suspect this two-decade-old affair will last till my last breath. The story; the characters: Laurie, Andrew and Ralph; they have faces and voices in my head all these years when I think of them.

The first copy I got my hands on was from the Bedok branch of The National Library. Probably after school one day, probably still in my uniform, I must had been 15 or 16. I borrowed it and brought it home.

That was the first time I realized that a book can inflict such exquisite pain. So fucking beautiful. Set in the butch background of World War 2, yet such tender love, between men, sweet and innocent. I don’t know how many times I must have made love to that book, not just in one session but over and over, borrowing that copy repeatedly over the years until I finally own my own copy. Rolling around in bed madly devouring the passages. The kind of intoxicating beauty that The Charioteer is, you just can’t get enough. Your heart breaks when the novel ends, because you want the characters to live on.

And it was actually written by a lesbian. The late Mary Renault. How sweet is that?

I’ve always thought that The Charioteer is perfect for a film. Surely this story has touched someone in that industry? Brokeback Mountain (2005) is a strong example that a gay romance can be done and accepted and has a real chance of achieving mainstream success. A genuine gay romance that is just that, without stereotypical characters for comic relief.

When I visualize it as a movie, I think of it as having the same gorgeous lush mood that I associate with yes, Brokeback Mountain, but more in common with The English Patient (1996) and Atonement (2007), and with more than a touch of Maurice (1987). They are not only achingly beautiful romantic epics, but The English Patient and Atonement are also set in the World War Two period, with the latter even featuring Dunkirk scenes, the beach in France where Allied soldiers were evacuated in 1940. In The Charioteer, protagonist Laurie Odell is a wounded soldier evacuated from Dunkirk.

So imagine my surprise when I found that it had been made into a movie! I just found out now, in the middle of writing this entry.

Well, unfortunately that wasn’t a real movie, but it looked so real! Someone who loves the book even more than I do, went to the trouble to create a montage of scenes, of what the trailer should look like. Complete with the selection of a hauntingly sweet song as the soundtrack. And he did a fantastic job. I was overjoyed… and fooled. But I loved it. And yes, that’s the kind of mood the movie should have. It would have to be in the hands of directors like Anthony Minghella or Clint Eastwood to turn out right.

Anyway, this is one of my favourite reviews of the novel, written by a Mr. Jim Herrick in 2003.

(Image of book cover:  a scan of my copy, which I saw and grabbed at Borders some years ago. This edition is by Harcourt Brace & Company)

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