Introducing our October Book of the Month: The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault

‘Mary Renault is a shining light to both historical novelists and their readers’ – Hilary Mantel

Curtis Brown has a rich Estates list, and having touched on the theme of rediscovery last month, we thought it was time to bring out an incredibly important author, who Virago have been republishing this year: Mary Renault. With fans from Simon Russell Beale to Tom Holland, and Sarah Dunant to Hilary Mantel, we want to introduce her to a new set of readers…

Before setting her sights on the more ancient side of history, Mary wrote six fantastically compelling novels, but it is her work set in Ancient Greece that gained her widespread admiration for her scrupulous recreation of post war Athens.

The Last of the Wine was the first to mark this change in style in 1956, telling the story of champion runner Alexias in Athens at the end of the Golden Age and the Peloponnesian War with Sparta.

We follow Alexias from birth through to manhood, when he gets noticed for his beauty and his sporting prowess. In his adolescence, he meets and falls for Lysis, a man in his twenties who is a student of Socrates, and becomes Alexias’ mentor. In spite of their relationship, they both seek to marry and have children, as was the pressure and custom of the time. Lysis and Alexias compete in the Olympic Games, while Alexias juggles his training with his new responsibilities as man of the house, after the death of his father sends him reeling.

Mary Renault coversIn the latter portion of the book, war wreaks havoc on Athens, and Alexias is forced to fight both on land and at sea to protect his family, and regain his city from the oligarchs. The intense realism of Renault’s writing sets this story apart, as you see Ancient Greece through Alexias’ eyes.

Richly descriptive, and absolutely addictive, Renault weaves a tale of beauty, courage and war that will leave you wanting more. As always, we will be posting more about the book, so watch this space.

Last of the Wine is published by Virago Books. 

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