Ancient Evenings

Ancient Evenings - Norman Mailer If D.K. Broster's books strike one as being overly-clean for their hidden emotional subtext, this novel gives the absolute opposite impression of dirtiness and filth. The mud of the Nile pervades the whole, as does the sheer, stinking physicality of human sex, even in the most palatial surroundings. The main story of the novel is about the relationship between Rameses II, his charioteer Menenhetet, and various female appendages of Rameses - his two wives and one of his concubines. It is a story of great themes - repressed love and desire (of Meni for his Pharaoh) mingled with shame at the sexual act, the subsequent betrayal with his Queens; the wars, and the great Festival. Mailer specializes in both the ceremonious and the shocking detail (cannibalism on the night of the battle, for instance). This story is as told by Menenhetet to a decadent Pharaoh more than a hundred years later (he is in a different life) and this gives rise to a rather clumsy inner-narrative device, complicated by the filtering mind-presence of a younger relative Menenhetet II, who himself is dead and carried back through time. A lengthy mythological section and much Egyptian religious mumbo-jumbo concerning the dead makes the first couple of hundred pages difficult going, with no human interest to hang on to - after that, the going's easier, but I can't say I found the general tone congenial. [These notes were made in 1985:].