Updated: Jan 12, 2019
Ransom is indeed a retelling of a part of The Iliad. It is one of the defining moments of the poem when Priam kneels and kisses Achilles hand, asking for the return of his son’s body. But in the poem, we are never told just how Priam makes it into the Greek camp. He simply shows up. This short little novel is Malouf’s version of the journey and how Priam arrives at the camp with the ransom. Malouf makes the story very much about Priam and his thoughts and ponderings while travelling on the mule driven cart. We find out that Priam who has ruled Troy for sixty years, knows absolutely nothing about everyday life. Since the age of ten everything has been done for him. His role as King has been to portray an image that is above the normal way of life. He has had to live on a pedestal, a figurehead for the masses. While listening to the loquacious carter Somax, who joins him on this journey, he realises that he knows nothing about life. He marvels at how a pancake is made, and despairs to hear how precious and fleeting life is to the lower classes of his Kingdom. This novel is so beautifully written. It is a joy to hear the carter’s anecdotes and stories of his life. He’s such a great character and Malouf uses him as an archetype of the lower class. It’s intriguing, the contrast between the two. They are polar opposites coming from the extreme edges of the social spectrum. Their worlds could not be any farther apart. And yet, as the carter tells Priam about the death of his son, Priam, with all the sons he has lost, realises that death does not spare either of them, but that it may be experienced differently. Priam laments that he has not experienced the love and passion that the carter had for his son. He has lost so many to the war but many of them he never really knew in the same way as the carter knew his son. His sons, used for politics and alliances, his love more symbolic. Things start to get interesting when a young Greek shows up and claims that he has been sent by Achilles to escort them. Yet how did he know about the ransom at all? Is this the work of the Gods? I cannot stress how beautifully this short little novel is written. The addition of the carter, Somax, works tremendously and he is one of my favourite parts of this novel. The climactic meeting of Priam and Achilles is also beautifully told with a twist provided by Malouf that is a highlight of the book. If you love the Iliad, then you simply have to read this. 5 stars,
David Malouf as well as writing novels has written three short story collections. THE COMPLETE STORIES, DREAM STUFF and EVERY MOVE YOU MAKE. The Complete Stories won the 2008 Australia-Asia literary award. He has also been shortlisted for the 1993 Booker Prize, with REMEMBERING BABYLON, He was born and raised here in Brisbane, but now lives in Sydney. He also writes poetry.
Below is a link to the ABC website where you can download an audio or transcript of an interview with him talking about Ransom.