An Imaginary Life by David Malouf takes its setting from the exile of the Roman poet Ovid. He is banished to Tomis, a remote town on the outskirts of the empire where no one speaks his language. Ovid has been truly silenced by Augustus. The exile of Ovid is an event which is enshrined mystery. We know the name of the town that he was sent to, but we do not know why; some scholars have gone so far as to suggest that the exile itself was a fiction. This lack of information gives Malouf the space to explore the story that he wants to tell.
We meet Ovid after his exile as he struggles to understand (quite literally) Tomis and the people with whom he now lives. Within this cold and desolate landscape, Malouf invents a character known only as the Child, a feral boy who has been raised in the wilderness by deer. Ovid feels an instant connection to this child and it is this relationship that creates the foundation of the book. Continue reading →
Homer’s Iliad is one of my favourite works and I have always been particularly drawn to the scene where Priam sneaks into the Greek camp to beg Achilles for the return of the body of his son, Hector. I have always loved the humanity that is present in Homer; how he focused on the individual lives of those who were fighting the war. It is this episode that sums up what Homer does so well. Here we have two men, caught up in their aching grief and sharing that with each other as equals. It is in this moment that humanity shines through this bloody war of the gods.
In Ransom, David Malouf has taken this scene and transformed it into something new. The book mainly follows Priam, as he makes this unprecedented decision from the depths of his grief. Malouf shows us that whilst mourning is something that we will all have to go through at some point, we experience it differently. Priam cares deeply about all the sons he has lost to this war, but when he talks to his wife, Hecuba, he realises that she mourns for them on a different level. She remembers them as children. She remembers carrying them in her womb, teaching them to walk, the toys with which they played. Priam feels his loss deeply, but these are not the memories that he holds of his sons. He also grieves for his city and the dangers that the deaths of his sons may bring on his people and remaining family.
As for the grief of Achilles. Well, his grief for Patroclus is transformed into rage. If his lover is dead, then the world should die with him.