Book Review: The Last of the Wine

Thursday 3 December 2015 by

The Last of the Wine, Mary Renault, Reading, Book, Virago Modern ClassicsThe Last of the Wine by Mary Renault

Published by Virago Modern Classics

Alexias, a young Athenian of a good family, comes of age as the Peloponnesian War is coming to an end. The adult world he enters is one in which the power and influence of his class have been undermined by the forces of war. Alexias finds himself drawn to the controversial teachings of Socrates, following him even though it at times endangers both his own life and his family’s place in society. Among the great teacher’s followers Alexias meets Lysis, and the two youths become inseparable – together they wrestle in the palaestra, journey to the Olympic Games, and fight in the wars against Sparta. As their relationship develops against the background of famine, siege and civil conflict, Mary Renault expertly conveys the intricacies of classical Greek culture.

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I’m a bit late to the game with this one; as part of the Curtis Brown Book Group, I hadn’t actually heard of The Last of the Wine before, but was willing to give it a go. It’s not a book I would have ever thought to pick up.

I’m going to be totally honest. This is not my kind of thing. Slow, complicated, and sometimes overly smug, The Last of the Wine is kind of everything I don’t enjoy about historical fiction. It does have its good points – it’s fascinating to learn about Greek culture, and the language is ultimately beautiful. But there seems to be little purpose in the plot; it meanders and ponders and the interesting bits are swiftly cut off (even the ending is far too abrupt).

As for a character – Alexias is not the most interesting, and the others are left slim on the pages. Lysis serves only as a love token, and his stepmother as a weak female to be protected. Even his father – by far the most intricate of the characters – looms as a forbidding shadow instead of enjoying a fleshed out tale.

It took me a long time to read this, exactly because it felt too slow an undulating. I feel bad that I didn’t enjoy this book for the modern classic that it is. Perhaps I could be persuaded to look past it, but it’s one for more reflection than instant review.

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