Five Classic Mary Renault Novels

In honour of our book of the month, THE LAST OF THE WINE by Mary Renault, for this month’s ‘Five Books Feature’ we have given ourselves the tough act of choosing just five classic novels from Mary Renault’s illustrious oeuvre. With a writing career that spanned five decades and hundreds of thousands of copies of her novels sold worldwide during her lifetime, we certainly had plenty to choose from! As ever, we’d love to hear your favourites too.

97818440895051) The Charioteer

In this story of a love affair between two young servicemen in the Second World War, Mary cleverly recasts contemporary questions surrounding the politics of homosexual love in the classical context of platonic ideals. When it was first published in the UK in 1953, William Morrow’s fears of hostility towards the serious gay love story in the U.S. meant that it couldn’t be published across the Atlantic for a further six years. Good thing it finally escaped the censors, as its recent Virago reprint features a fantastic introduction from Simon Russell Beale.

2) Return to Night9781844089536

Mary’s fourth novel was important in more ways than one. Aside from being another great example of how Mary allows her readers to get inside the heads of famous classical figures, this was also the book which allowed the author to take a one-way trip out of the UK. When MGM Studios bought the rights for $150,000 (worth over £1,000,000 today), Mary and her long-term partner Julie Mullard were able to escape to South Africa which, in the 1940s, had a far more liberal attitude towards homosexuality than the English Home Counties.

97818440895743) Fire from Heaven

There are no surviving contemporary accounts of the first two-thirds of Alexander’s life. In this first novel about the heroic leader, Mary exploits this fascinating gap, gaining some serious posthumous success in the process. In 2010, it was shortlisted for the Lost Booker Prize (an award given retrospectively to novels from 1970 when the Booker Prize skipped a year). Despite losing out to J G Farrell’s Troubles, Mary gained a series of high-profile fans, including broadcaster Katie Derham, critic Rachel Cooke, and poet and novelist Tobias Hill.

4) The Last of the Wine9781844089611

The first of Mary’s classical works, the strand of writing for which she is best known, this novel (this month’s Book Group read) moves through the lives of Theseus, Plato, Dionysius and Alexander during the Peloponnesian War, blending fact with Mary’s unique brand of imaginative speculation and humanising these legendary figures. Coupled with highly realistic scenes of daily life in times of both war and peace, this is an absolute must-read for Mary fans.


The Nature of Alexander5) The Nature of Alexander

For our final pick, we’ve chosen a non-fiction gem. Despite writing several historical novels featuring the mighty Alexander, Mary still felt this wasn’t enough to tell his whole story, completing this biography instead. Mary manages to capture, on the one hand, his extraordinary grace and beauty and, on the other, the brutality and menace associated with his life and legacy. What Mary creates is a profile of a truly great man, although whether that reputation is based on equally great reasons is for you to decide…

There you have it – our favourite five Mary Renault novels. Any that you think we’ve left off? Tweet us your suggestions @CBBookGroup.

The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault is our October book of the month, available now from @ViragoBooks

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