Ancient Evenings: A Novel
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This is a complex, crude, vulgar, multi-layered exploration of life and death in ancient Egypt. I think most people will either love or hate this novel with few on middle ground. If you like novels with a clear plot and if you would be offended by graphic sex scenes that include just about every Puritan taboo, you would do best to avoid this book.
Ancient Evenings starts off slow and confusing but if you stick with it through the first pages or so, the stories and descriptions start to draw you into an incredible re-creation of Ancient Egyptian life. It reads as if it was written by a real ancient Egyptian whose work was recently discovered and translated into English. Ancient Evenings opens with the Ka or spirit of Meni II realizing he must be dead and needs to find his way to the afterlife. He soon discovers the spirit of his great grandfather, Meni I, who he hopes will serve as his guide.
Meanwhile, there are some rather long retellings of Egyptian mythology which occurs often throughout the book. There are flashbacks to when Meni II and Meni I were alive and finally we get to the main part of the story where Meni I tells the current Pharoh the story of his 4 lives.
Norman Mailer – Ancient Evenings
It walks the grid-like streets of the Necropolis — the tombs of the rich — and finds its own burial chamber. It slips through the cracks and ponders its sarcophagus.
It knows one thing: the body was murdered. Soon another ghost arrives. Menenhetet begins to speak and , words issue forth. As a reader, you should not hope to fathom his tale.
Always there is the threat of a failed passage through the underworld: without this knowledge as a guide, the soul may fall into lakes of fire or be consumed by monsters. In this book, a story is a doll within a doll.
Reading Ancient Evenings
The identity of the narrator remains uncertain. The truth of the mythologies recounted by Menenhetet is forever in question.
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Mailer insists upon magic and sex in equal measure, and describes each in every dimension. His language is biblical, but Mailer is not quite authentic; his repertoire is limited and the prose soon stales with repetition. For this reason and others, the first half of the book is the most effective.
Both the reader and Mailer are up for the challenge. But by the end, when the pace of events increases, when the prose forsakes purple for a colour known only to Mailer, the book collapses across its own finish line. The sense of relief is palpable. I was left with the impression that Ancient Evenings is a bona fide work of genius.
There are passages that are literally breathtaking.