28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2000
I picked this book up used and had trouble to start with - the first 25 pages or so were the equivalent of wading through mud. After reading the reviews here I decided I'd plow through the rest of it or die trying. Fortunately, the writing evened out and became quite casual reading.
It's a weird book to say the least and not like anything I've read (mostly classics, sci-fi and scientific) however it was thoroughly fascinating at the same time. It didn't matter what was going on in the story: the writing was powerful, the thoughts and images of the story clearly conveyed in writing. Very few books can put a picture in your head like this one can.
While the sexual exploits were certainly entertaining (and quite humorous at times) they - like everything in the book - happened for a reason, illustrating the power struggles and state of the mind quite lucidly as the characters interacted with each other.
This book isn't for everyone, but those able to read it cover to cover will think about the book and characters long after finishing it - the mark of any good book as far as I'm concerned.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 1999
This is a tough book to read, no doubt about it. I put it down twice before reading it through the third time. This is a deeply insightful text, and the plot is mystical to the point of surreal. The story is set in various timelines, as the central character has been reborn several times. In his rendition of his lives Menenhetet paints a picture of ancient Egypt, one that has little if any correlation to our times. So in that sense the book does indeed suck the reader into the time of ancient Egypt. After I read this book I felt much like I did after seeing "Saving Private Ryan" - not particularly entertained, but very moved. I recommend it.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 1998
The story opens with the birth-or I should say-re-birth of the main character Menenhetet.
This description,fiery and mystical, sets the stage for the level of tales to follow. As one reads about the many exploits of Menenhetet, one begins to reflect on ones' own life experiences: the ups and downs, the power ploys, the sexual exploits(of which there are many and varied), and at last both the finality and continuity of life. The descriptions of place such as the palace of Thebes, the Gardens of the little queens (the harem), the battle at Kaddesh, the royal barge, the city of Tyre are all told with stunning clarity and immediacy. Another review described the homosexual scenes between men; there are also some such scenes between the little queens, but all these scenes, including the many heterosexual ones are described with a sensitivity and a focus on power in relationships rarely written about in most modern novels. At least that has been my experience. Finally, the way Mailer writes about the thoughts of the different characters and the way they drift in and out of each others minds made me believe in the ability of a person today to experience transcendent thought. I read the book over six years ago and I am still impressed with its' power over my consiousness.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2003
Norman Mailer, you say. But this is not what one would expect from Mr. Mailer. This is one novel, 2 novellas and a myth in one book about Ancient Egypt. The first part is a surreal scene which introduces us to the Egyptian concept of 'soul'. In the Judeo-Christian world view we have 'a' soul: the Egyptians had many, including the ba and ka to name two. The next is a wonderful retelling of the Osiris myth. The middle half of this large book is the story of Ramesses the Great's military expedition against the Hittites told by his charioteer. (This may be the section of the book most identified as 'Mailer'.) The last part is a dreamy view of life among the royals of ancient Egypt. A great read.
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2002
Publishers Weekly was quoted regarding Mailer's THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE SON: "...[it's] penetration into Jesus's human heart rivals Dostoyevsky for depth and insight. Its recreation of the world through which Jesus walked is as real as blood. Ultimately, Mailer convinces, more than any writer before him, that for Jesus the man it could have been just like this; and that is, in itself, some sort of literary miracle."I am barely through half of this eight hundred odd page masterwork. Yet I am already amazed by Mailer's ability to penetrate the human heart of the civilization of the spiritual, highly advanced, mysterious Ancient Egypt with ANCIENT EVENINGS.
Mailer seeminngly captures Egypt during a period that could be easily considered antithetically decadent to its many periods of great glory like the First Dynasty's uniting of the "The Two Lands," the Pyramid Age, the 12th Dynasty or the famous 18th, with Akhenaton, Nefertiti, and King Tut. Or, heartbreakingly enough for romantic Egyptophiles like myself, he could be capturing how everyday Egypt, underneath the pomp and circumstance of the persepective of an Egyptologist or the Kingly/Pharonic court ritual (much like Rome millenia later) actually was.
Mailer has always been accused of personalizing himself too much in his work, and the evidence of twentieth century left-of-center White American bohemian life and culture, as well as its self-projected/narcississtic perspective on ancient Egyptian culture, does at times bleed through. African people South of Egypt are referred to in the novel as Negroes or Blacks. (Ancient Egyptian people, Pharaohs and rulers--those that weren't actually fully Black themselves--saw much greater differences amongst peoples regarding religions, kingdoms/class, language and geography than the modern world has taught us to believe about the myth of race and skin color. Such distinctions regarding non-Nilotic or non-North African African peoples [as the Egyptians were North African peoples whose language was in a family of languages shared by many peoples in a thousand mile radius], let alone quasi-contemptuous ruminations on them [patricularly considering the ancient Ethiopian, Dogon or Sudanese] would not have been made then as Mailer makes them when he wrote this, he being a product of pre-integrationist America). The conversations about that strange tribe known as the Hebrews are equally reflective of Biblical story and cultural influence as opposed to ancient Egyptian. (And of course, as the Torah/Old Testament was written many centuries after ANCIENT EVENING's story takes place, the Egyptian take on the Hebrews would be either far less interesting and mythologically significant to them, or interesting to the Pharoahs and religious leaders in a way that would change our entire concept of Western culture if it were revealed.) Most of all though, even for a left of center, non-homophobic artist like myself who knows the value of sexual freedom in artistic expression, the rampant and graphic scenes of homosexual dalliances and rapes are just a wee bit much for me (!).
Just the same, Mailer's ability to weave the complexity of emotions, personalities, issues, struggles, strange powers, human potentialities and overall mysticism of the civilization and its people into a treatise on its understanding of the human spirit and the singular mystery of one continuously suspense-weaving plot, is already captivating me in magical ways.
After working for years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Department of Egyptian Art in New York, my enjoyment of reading this novel, which may have been a closet favorite of many of my curator friends, is greatly enhanced. I highly recommend this for anyone who likes Mailer, ancient Egyptian art and civilization, and a fascinating mystery. Pick it up, and even when it gets confusing to you, you won't be able to put it down.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2007
I read this book when it was first published over 20 years ago. Not an easy read, not many of Mailer's books are, but thought provoking and interesting in the extreme. It was news of Norman Mailer's death that made me reach to the top of the bookcase and re-read my well worn copy.
For anyone interested in Egyptology, the book is a must even though it is a work of fiction. There are wonderful and for me memorable parts in the book. The way Mailer brings the reader into the depths and darkness of an Egyptian tomb, eventually for them to realise that the person narrating the tale is in fact the dead pharaoh, who himself has just had a rude awakening when he realises that he is no longer among the living and that his soul is now faced with all the shades and visitations of the undead that his beliefs have taught him throughout his lifetime.
The book shows in great detail the pageantry and might of the Egypt of that period. It shows the love of a family and also the sorrow that even the most lowly of families must experience. If this was not how Egypt really was, then it is how it should have been. For anyone who missed it first time around it is a must read.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2005
This is one of the best novels I have read since One Hundred Years of solitude. The first chapters are a bit confusing and it is hard to see where the book is going to but later on the book stars to unveil the most enjoyable adventure before your eyes. Mr. Mailer really has the gift to paint with words in the reader's mind. I do recommend this book without hesitation.
39 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2003
I read this the first week it came out, long ago, and thought it the Great American Novel, despite its being set in Egypt. Why so grand an opinion? Because the writing, especially the set-pieces about mummification and a trip up the Nile, as well as others, were better written than any passages of equal length by any American author I'd ever read. RAINTREE COUNTY sets out to be the Great Amrican Novel but, as much as I enjoyed it when I was twenty, its lyricism falls short of Mailer's. The trip up the Nile is equaled only by Twain's Mississippi, Melville's Three-Day Chase at the end of MOBY DICK, and Hemingway's description of the deep waters Santiago fishes in in THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. I found Mailer's characters, even the walkons, more well-rounded and weighted than any by the whole pantheon of classic American writers. Melville, Twain, Thomas Wolfe, Dreiser, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Bellow, Updike, none of them has created Tolstoyan characters with feet as fully plantd on the page as Mailer's Egyptians. Nor has Mailer ever again matched the exquisite bath of light in which he washes these pages.
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Early on in this interminable narrative, the three items of my subject line are referred to as unified. Mailer does labor mightily to bring this monsterful novel forth as a masterful tale. In the opening pages, describing death and pain, in the set-piece battle with the Hittites, in his description of being within the bowels of a tomb, in other descriptions of being within another's bowels--here, he succeeds. Like it or not, the excremental theme manages to connect the mud, the fecundity, the slime, the stink with carnal and practical and spiritual knowledge through power. I wonder if Foucault read this before he died?
What's disappointing, then, are the stagnant patches you must slog, or more likely skim, to get to the energized portions. Nearly 650 pages, and probably no more than 150 of them reward your effort. The characters of the little queens Honey Ball and Heqat, big queen Nefertiti, the main pharoahs, and the Hittite princess do manage to leap off the page. But you miss others that needed to be drawn more distinguishably--such as the wife of the Hebrew that the protagonist marries for fourteen or so years--this whole "lost weekend" episode could have been much better written. This whole lacuna in the story sags, as if Mailer had to have the narrator pass a few years in exile in order for the rest of Egypt to move forward to catch up with him.
As a result, the bracing plunge Mailer does give you into the mentality of an entirely alien way of faith, cosmology, and ethos manages to immerse you for long periods, only to be irritable when, as in the final stretch of the book, the care taken in parts falls apart and the story lumbers to an indifferently conveyed conclusion. As the pages go on, the narrative design of the book weakens, and the whole shift from one life to another seems to be--as in many time-travel stories--wobblier and less convincing. The ability of characters to drift in and out of each other's consciousness is an excellent device, yet it too is applied almost at random rather than with care.
I suppose the hours I spent with this book entertained me, but the investment of time paid off with less consistent rewards than the decade Mailer spent upon its construction would lead you to believe.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2003
I first read this book in 1994. Over the years I have read this book over and over again. Every time I read it, something new pops up! This story(s) are beautifully put together and the entire thing is fantastic!
I notice other reviews lament about the sometimes gory details,YES!, but that is the beauty of this book. This is the way human nature is, raw and unapologetic! Mailer didn't writing this to please people. Another thing, keep this book away from young children, unless you want to answer "birds and the bees" questions sooner. (there is an explicit description of oral copulation between a certain character and his wife, if you need an example) Anyhoo, if your the kind of reader who enjoy a little meat to their reading, you'll enjoy this one! On a side note, I've found that this book is better if read with a glass of wine.