Review Blog

May 24 2011

Ransom by David Malouf

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Random House Australia. Vision Australia, 2011, ISBN 978 1 86482602 9. 4 CDs, (5 hours).
Ages: Senior students and adults. Fiction. Highly recommended. The story of the Greeks besieging the city of Troy is an age old legend, part of the group of stories which make up The Illiad and The Odyssey. Many versions of the tales have been published but none like this. Malouf's retelling of the story of the ransom paid for Hector's body is captivating, the frailties and inconsistencies of those involved revealed for the reader, their back stories told with understanding and sympathy. Listening to this audio version from Vision Australia, told by the Australian actor, Ron Haddrick, is entrancing, his voice giving a gravitas to the words, his age and wisdom seeping into every word.
When Achilles takes umbrage at Agamemnon claiming his prize, the enslaved girl, Briseis, he retreats to his tent, refusing to fight alongside his leader. As a result, his best friend and companion, Patroclus dons Achilles' armour to lead the field, losing his life as a consequence. Achilles' grief is overwhelming and his resultant fight with Hector, sees Hector being killed. Instead of allowing the Trojans to retrieve the body of their king's son, their hero, for a proper burial, Achilles ties the body to his chariot and every day for eleven days, drives it around the walls of Troy. Each day the gods renew Hector's body, making it seem recently killed.
King Priam, desperate to bury his son, has a humble cart loaded with treasure and rides out to meet Achilles and beg for his son's body. The carter, a day labourer from the market place, is unsure of how to treat his king, but his natural instincts take over as he realises that the king is an innocent, used to such a different life that he must take some leadership and direct his moves with sympathy and thoughtfulness.
The story of the reason for the ransom being paid, the debate within his household for Priam to do such an unheard of thing, the journey to the Greek encampment and the bargaining between Priam and Achilles is given a fresh retelling on these 4 CD's. As Malouf says in his afterword, some of the stories he uses in this book take only a few lines in The Illiad, but he fleshes out the story to give us a narrative rich with the thoughts and actions behind the deeds.
The CD set, lasts for 5 hours and is mesmerizing listening, the voice of Haddrick taking over as the listener falls into the windy plains of Troy to listen to the motives behind some of the events which although thousands of years old, have resonance in today's world as the events of September 11, 2001 provided the impetus for this writing.
Fran Knight

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