Confederates by Thomas Keneally - review by Frederic Raphael

Frederic Raphael

History plus Sex



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The historical novel, generally speaking, could be said to owe its popularity to a simple formula: history plus sex. Even so cardboard an example as Sir Walter· Scott’s Ivanhoe, the first ‘adult’ book ever pressed upon me, is memorable for the lustrous Jewess (Rachel, I expect) who, if memory serves, was among those done to death in York, though she may, like Shylock’s Jessica, have lived to enjoy a spiritual nose-job through conversion to Christianity. The ancient world was first brought to something approaching life for me by the admirably candid, if scarcely Dionysiac, stories of Naomi Mitchison, though one did eventually discover that not all ancient historians were as left-right-left as Xenophon or as dryly sophisticated as Thucydides. (If only Procopius had been born a few centuries earlier, what an Alcibiades we should have!)

One wonders why certain areas of the past are much more convincingly depicted by novelists than others. Rome has come out remarkably well, not only with Robert Graves and Peter Green but even with Lord Lytton and Thornton Wilder, while Mary Renault’s Greece, though marvellously enlightening, always seems like some

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