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Where does The Last of the Wine rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
In the top five.
Which character – as performed by Barnaby Edwards – was your favorite?
Philo a slave by war that after witnessing the deaths of his father and his lover and his mother being carried off as a victor’s prize, he is sold into slavery as a boy for hire. His salvation is his mind, who Socrates’ deems worthy, and entreats a wealthy acolyte to buy the youth and free him. Having done so, the wealthy benefactor employs him as a scribe; an occupation fitting for a foreign freeman. At the end of the book, he has a great speech in which he foreshadows Christ's rejection as the ultimate example of excellence and good being pulled down and killed by the masses so that we are all level and equal. Edwards portrays this soul with great sensitivity.
Any additional comments?
I am an unrepentant fan of Mary Renault when she writes in the historical first person prospective. I have read all her historical based books in my youth. Now that Audible is slowly making her historical works available in audio format I am thrilled to rediscover these literary treasures. In this work she has not disappointed me.
This book invites you into a first person view of what it was like to be born into, grow up, find love, participate in cities life in war and peace, and in victory and defeat. In this view the best ideals of the philosopher Socrates are modeled in the fully developed characters. Our heroes Alexias and Lysis model idealized male love in a pre-Christian era. They also model being able to love women, marriage, and rear children. All of this is set in the cultural morals, superstitions, beliefs, practices, and customs of classical Greek pre-Christian culture. As to her portrayals of war, nothing is more up close and personal then taking a human life with a sharp weapon. The wounds and death throws are described in the clinical detail of a medical professional. The author was, at one point, a nurse by profession. So she brings a gritty sense of reality to death by war and violence or death by starvation and privation.
This book is one of Ms. Renault best textured and multi layered books. The main characters are well fleshed out. You can read/listen to it to compare and contrast different political models and provide a critique of the best and worst features of democracy. It offers a Socrates inspired course in how to assess the character of men using politicians for fodder examples of bad character. Darn, if I can’t see the points when I apply these standards to today’s crop of village idiots seeking to lead us, or talking head commentators who stir up the public passions of the political mob for gain, while clouding or extinguishing the light of reason and compromise. The book provides excellent examples of the philosopher’s use of the socratic method of questioning and defining our terms in their never ending quest to find truth, beauty, love or “the good”. Philosophically truth, beauty, and love are all various aspects of “the good”.
The device the author uses to bring you through the womb of time into the third century BCE is the birth of our point of view storyteller Alexias. She sets about this much like a skillful bird builds a nest. She does not announce that this is a book set in at the end of the Peloponnesian Wars (about 429 to 404 BC) although it is clear that this is the framework that underpins it and upon which the nest will rest. However, it is not identified any more than a bird would say “In this oak tree and upon that branch I will build my nest”; if birds could speak. No she starts out adding little bits of domestic daub and wattle sticking together the bits and pieces of historical detail building a mosaic picture into the nest. In the first chapter we learn we are in Athens in springtime and the Spartans descend on the Athenian plain chasing farmers into the city polis of the walls of protection while the annual siege lasts. We learn that the Spartans a ruthless foe, burning the countryside farms with the exception of sacred places, like an olive grove or taking care not to deface an image of the gods. We learn that during this period, while the city groans under the weight of the increased population a plague breaks out killing our storytellers name sake uncle and his natural mother shortly after his birth. We learn that his father, Myron, a knight of the equestrian class, briefly considers having this weak premature child done away with through exposure but relents when he returns and finds his wife dead and the child suckling and thriving on a wet nurse. This daub is very clever as it immediately creates an empathetic bond between the audience and the protagonist first person viewpoint of Alexias, or your heart is stone. I could go on illustrating this daub and wattle mosaic nest metaphor approach but to do so would belabor what is the obvious about her style. It is painless history that carries you away into another time, place, and culture that is vaguely familiar yet strange, all at the same time. The domestic approach is familial, comforting, and form a portal through which we can view the cultural and historic oddities; embracing them as part of our modern identity. And that dear audience of this review is the genius of Mary Renault and why you should spend 16 hours and 35 minutes or 400 pages of your life getting to know her work through this audio book. The only thing the audio book missed was the glossary of terms the book version has.
A caution to modern day viewpoints: The classical Greek culture is very tolerant of sexuality in general. Although this book does present that aspect clearly and honestly in the two M/M pair bond heroes, it is done with taste and moderation to the sensibilities of its1956 copywriter audience. If you are seeking the unbridled lust of a bacchanalian portrayal this is not the audio book for you.
Barnaby Edwards is a British actor, writer, director and artist. He is known as a performer for the British science-fiction television series Doctor Who. He has also written, directed, produced or performed in over 80 Big Finish Production Company, “Doctor Who” audio stories. Alongside frequent radio and voice over work, Edwards has narrated over 40 unabridged audiobooks for Audible and others. His voice begins sounding old and solemn, perhaps even a bit stuffy, but can quickly morph into that of an excited youth, a pompous politician, or take on the hiss of evil incarnate. One can always rely on him for a good show.
16 of 17 people found this review helpful
For lovers of Greek history, this book is pure joy tempered by sorrow. The writing is intelligent and poetic, the reader does the poetic prose justice. Mary Renault makes the Athens of the late 5th century BCE come alive through the story of Alexias and Lysis, two young Athenians who come of age during this turbulent period. The story begins with the last phase of the Peloponnesian War, the Athenian led invasion of Syracuse and ends with the overthrow of the Spartan imposed oligarchy in Athens. I had previously listened to the abridged version of "The Tides of War" by Steven Pressfield, read by Derek Jacobi which covers roughly the same historical period but focuses more on the life of Alcibaides, the original leader of the Syracusan expedition. I found that what I had learned from "The Tides of War" was very helpful in following the "Last of the Wine", but of the two, this book by Mary Renault is the more poignant and thought provoking. There is so much here that is relevant today. I wholeheartedly recommend this book.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
What did you like most about The Last of the Wine?
This book sparked my interest in Classical Greek history. Since subsequently studying the period in some depth the novel's greatest use is that it fleshes-out the various important events and characters and helps establish a mental map of the period. While Renault uses artistic license the actual bits of history taken from primary texts remain untampered (at least to my basic understanding). The novel certainly brings to life this amazing period and helps colour the fragmentary texts time has left us.
What was one of the most memorable moments of The Last of the Wine?
I find many parts of the novel evocative, one example being the opening. Her imagery is powerful enough to engage all your senses so you can feel the morning air and smell the baking bread. Indeed, despite my numerous readings, the book still has the power to move me. For someone who had never visited Greece (so I believe), Renault does an amazing job taking the reader there. And as a bonus, all those terms you're never sure how to pronounce are rendered for you.
What does Barnaby Edwards bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?
Undoubtedly, the fact he is so 'invisible.' He has the ability to give each character their own voice without putting himself between reader and character.
Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
I remember exactly when and where I was when I first picked up this book - RAF Gatow junior ranks mess, 1983. And the edition I was reading was a yellow covered one. (I've since bought other copies.) I was playing at the Berlin Musical Pageant at the time but the book had such an impact on me that the following year I composed an orchestral suite based on it. It remains the only decent piece of music I composed.
Any additional comments?
As a young gay man in the military, the book probably had a greater appeal and fascination to me. The world of Alexis and Lysis was quite the opposite of the British military of the early 80's where we had to hide our sexuality and were subject to scrutiny if suspected. I like the fact Renault leaves the steamier side of physical relationships to your imagination and quite a few of my straight friends were able to enjoy the book without being put off by sexual details (gay or straight!) For me at least, Last of the Wine joins novels such as Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ode to Billy Joe and The Front Runner, all of which had a profound effect on me.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
Beautifully read, with sympathy, colour and character.
An authentic account of this period, and frequently moving even in its understatement.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Mary Renault's ability to allow her readers to enter into the reality of historical events through the lives of ordinary people is unsurpassed, and a master in telling a story. The Last of the Wine is a masterpiece, and long acknowledged as such. My hesitation with this audiobook is that its narrator, although at times very good, too often misses the tone of the characters to whom he gives a voice. Not only does the variety of tones (which is, in theory, an excellent approach) sometimes ring falsely, – at least to my ear – but the tone often used for the narrator, Alexias, too often does not convince, particularly when engaged in dialogue. However, the stature of the book itself is sufficient to allow us to tolerate flaws in the performance.