by Ferdia Lennon
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Pub Date 18 Jan 2024 | Archive Date Not set
An exhilarating, fiercely original story of brotherhood, war and art, and of daring to dream of something bigger than ourselves.
'Bold and totally unexpected, I loved this book' Douglas Stuart, author of Shuggie Bain
'A very special, very clever, very entertaining novel' Roddy Doyle, author of Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha
It's 412 BC, and Athens' invasion of Sicily has failed catastrophically. Thousands of Athenian soldiers are held captive in the quarries of Syracuse, starving, dejected, and hanging on by the slimmest of threads.
Lampo and Gelon are local potters, young men with no work and barely two obols to rub together. When they take to visiting the nearby quarry, they discover prisoners who will, in desperation, recite lines from the plays of Euripides for scraps of bread and a scattering of olives.
And so an idea is born: the men will put on Medea in the quarry. A proper performance to be sung of down the ages. Because after all, you can hate the Athenians for invading your territory, but still love their poetry.
But as the audacity of their enterprise dawns on them, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between enemies and friends. As the performance draws near, the men will find their courage tested in ways they could never have imagined ...
'Madly ambitious, cathartic like all great tragedy, but shockingly funny too, Ferdia Lennon's outstandingly original début is just glorious' Emma Donoghue, author of Room
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 40 members
What an absolute blinder of a book! Glorious Exploits is a refreshingly unique take on the current trend for novels set in Ancient Greece. It chooses a bold historical setting: the aftermath of Athen’s most infamous disaster, the Sicilian expedition, where thousands of Athenians lost their lives and several thousand were imprisoned in stone quarries near Syracuse. And in this grim war-ravaged setting it creates a story both laugh-out-loud funny and brutal: we follow Syracusan Lampo as he and his pal Gelon attempt to stage two plays by Euripides (Medea and Trojan Women). The catch? Well, Lampo and Gelon are but lowly unemployed potters, fond of the drink. And they’ve decided the only proper way to stage Euripides is with an Athenian cast..
There’s so much to enjoy with this book! It isn’t your typical historical novel, and Lampo’s voice as narrator is a delight - terrible, authentic, crude, pathetic, hilarious - with an irish-pattered dialogue so real you can almost hear it. There’s no expectation that the reader knows any of the ancient historical details to enjoy it. And as an added bonus, it introduces Euripides’ work to a whole new audience (Lampo’s initial opinion of the Trojan Women is spot on!)
Oh, this is utterly marvellous. Read it. Now. I've been recommending it left right and centre. Very much hope it does as well as it deserves.
As a lover of Euripides and the classical playwrights, I thought this book was a fantastic modern tribute to them, highlighting the intersections between politics, war, ethics, and drama in the classical world.
Whilst it is true that there is a lot of “Greek mythology retellings” around at the moment, I would not put Glorious Exploits in this category! Yes, it is a historical novel, and is set in classical Greece, but there are not the magical elements which feature in many of the recent myth retellings - other than as part of the character’s religious belief systems and within the plays mentioned.
Having read other reviews of this book, this seems to be an unpopular opinion but I really loved the use of Irish dialect for the native Syracusan characters. I thought it illustrated the differences between the upper class/educated Athenian prisoners and the free but impoverished Syracusans. Additionally, since most surviving writings from the classical world are (of course) by the educated and literate, I loved that this book gave the perspective of the people that are missed out from those stories - the poor, illiterate, enslaved, and lower class, and the use of vernacular was a poignant reminder of this.
I’ve tried to only discuss the themes of this book in this review, since I don’t want to spoil it, but I will just add that I thought the plot was interesting, well written, and thought-provoking. Being from the UK and having a particular interested in Bronze Age Britain I also loved the inclusion of a character being from the ‘Tin Isles’!
Overall, 5 stars, and will be making it into my favourite books of the year - thanks so much Penguin and Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this, and I can’t wait for it to be released so I can talk more about it’s plot/writing in depth.
Recommend if you like: well written novels, ancient historical fiction with down to earth dialogue, quarries, greek theatre, creepy patrons, irony, my book taste because I LOVED this one
Normally NetGalley ARCs sit on my virtual shelves gathering dust for a fair few weeks (at least) before getting picked up. But I got approved for this just before we flew to Sicily, where the book is set, albeit a good 2435 years ago. I love nothing more than reading a book whilst being where it is set, therefore Glorious Exploits went straight to the top of my TBR.
With this in mind, I thought the concept was cool, but I was reading the book for a pretty obscure reason that had nothing to do with the genre or plot. So I was very happy when I fell in love with it.
Plot in one line: Two Sicilian potters use captured Athenian soldiers to put on Greek plays
The book was very readable, with relatable dialogue and characters.
The story was super satisfying, with a perfect ending but not in a HEA way which I loved.
The atmosphere was perfect and deeply immersive.
Lil extra reasons I like this book:
I was sat in a Sicilian villa, with Etna in the background, just outside of Centuripe, and the characters travel past Centuripe!
The author got his MA at UEA and now lives in Norwich, I got my MMath from UEA and now live in Norwich!
This might just be the most original book I have read this year - and I loved every word.
Best friends Gelon and Lampo live in a rapidly growing and changing city, jobless after their factory closed, Lampo still living with his mother at thirty, Gelon grieving the loss of his family. Unemployed and with little money, life revolves around visiting the bar and dreaming, all too aware that they are have nots in a world of haves. So far so familiar, only our protagonists live in Syracuse nearly two and a half thousand years ago, a city that, against all odds, fought off the Athenians three years before the book starts - which is why there are several thousand Athenian men imprisoned in their quarries, dying slowly of disease and starvation. Men who are so grateful for few scraps of food they'll recite poetry in return for olives. And Gelon really adores Athenian poetry, especially the work of Euripedes. Which is why he has a brainwave. Why don't they put on a play right here, in the quarry, a Greek Tragedy performed by actual Athenians?
Sure they are broke, their potential actors are despised, hated and dying, they have no theatre experience or scripts, but when the duo find an actual actor and realise that thanks to him, they can put on not just Medea but also Euripedes new play The Trojan Women, a work not yet seen or heard in Syracuse, the dream takes on a life of its own.
Poignant, funny, dark, violent, heartbreaking, tender and eminently readable, you don't need to have read Thucydides or Euripedes, to know anything about Ancient Greece or the Peloponnesian war or Greek tragedy to be instantly absorbed into this vivid and human world. I'm not sure I have ever used tour de force in a review before, but this book deserves the title. A staggering achievement. Highly recommended.
This book exceeded my expectations and then some. It's an original, funny, heartwrenching and hopeful piece of historical fiction that I would thoroughly recommend you pick up.
In a nutshell, this story is set in Syracuse during the Peloponnesian War. We follow friends Lampo and Galon as they decide to use some captured Athenian's to put on a unique performance of Euripides in the quarry they are imprisoned within.
I really did fall in love with this book, the writing is fantastic and the characters (especially Lampo) jumped off the page. The juxtaposition between the Ancient Greece and the contemporary dialect was so refreshing and made Glorious Exploits an absolute pleasure to read.
Really excited to see how this one does when it is released and I will for sure be buying a copy for myself.
Please also check out my TikTok as I will be posting a video review of this amazing book - @indiacaitlinc
Thank you so much to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC!
This book is delightful and original. It's genuinely one of the best I've read this year. It's written beautifully, with a narration in a contemporary Irish vernacular that brings an element of humor and makes the story feel modern and relatable. It's dark, deeply funny, with glimpses of hope scattered throughout. It's also very readable, I burned through it in two days because the story really immersed me and I wanted to see what happened next. I thought it was well paced and had a satisfying ending.
The novel features two friends, Lampo and Gelon who are unemployed potters during the Peloponnesian war. Syracuse defeated invading Athenians and imprisoned them in a quarry. The two friends like to go to the quarry and mess with them to pass the time. Gelon often has them recite from his favorite playwrite, Euripedes and gets the idea to stage a play with the Athenian prisoners as actors, the closest he ever gets to seeing his hero's work staged in Athens. We see the process as they bring it to life, securing an eccentric patron, getting to know the 'actors', collecting a group of children to assist, securing different elements they need, and promoting the play. Along the way we really get to know the characters and root for them even when they don't necessarily deserve it.
I did not know anything about the Peloponnesian war or Euripides going into this, but I appreciated the glimpse into this place and time which felt well researched but accessible. This accessability is also helped by the MCs not being war heroes or gods like a lot of ancient/historic greek retellings.
I've been recommending it to everyone I can and I really hope it gets the attention it deserves, I think a lot of people would enjoy it.
There are some books that have the power to make you look at the world a little differently after you have read them, and I truly believe this is one of them. I didn’t know anything about the Peloponnesian war and I didn’t care about the Peloponnesian war before reading, and none of that mattered once I read the first page.
The style was immediately fresh - though it takes place in 400BC I did not have to struggle with olde language as it is written “in contemporary Irish dialect”. This choice is not jarring as you think it might be, somehow it just works. It was genius, it added flair and humour to some parts of the story, but did not feel gimmicky in the more emotional beats.
The story itself: a tale of overcoming differences, the power of art and love, brotherhood, romance, war, quests, victory, defeat, heartbreak, Glorious Exploits honestly had it all. It was both an epic and a tragedy and a comedy. The plot of the novel nearly mirrored the plays put on by the characters inside it. It was fully fledged and magnificent.
I nearly cried on the tube reading it on my tiny phone, I could imagine scenes in the climax as clearly as if they were played on a movie screen in front of me. You will not know until you read it what the desperation of that hill and that fence in the night felt like. It felt vivid and real! And that is such a rarity.
I will be buying this for myself and for others when it releases. I am truly thankful I was allowed to read it!
I will be publishing my review via Goodreads and Storygraph on 11 January 2024
What a fantastic novel. Original, erudite, sad, funny, violent, touching and totally engrossing. I absolutely loved it.
This is a cut above the recent slew of women's gaze mythology/history (and I really enjoy them).
The writing is excellent. The characterisation is superb and the ending, as is life is definitely messy.
Thank you NetGalley and Penguin - and well spotted Penguin if this really is a debut novel.
This is, without a doubt, the single most important piece of #ancienthistory fiction published in the past decade (if not longer).
I have struggled for some time to write this review, as I have struggled to summarise just how much, and in how many ways, I love this book. And how I think it is so necessary, and so vital, particularly to our understanding of the ancient world.
The failed Sicilian Expedition of c.413BC was devastating for Athens and, due to the biased nature of our sources, we hear very little of the Syracusan side of the war. We do know that captured Athenians were held prisoner in Syracusan quarries, and were forced to recite snippets of plays (which were always performed in Athens). Ferdia Lennon has seized this remarkable anecdote, and created something truly astounding out of it. The voices of Lampo and Gelon are real. Their home, their lives, their feelings, are real. I want to pour over this book and read it again and again and again, because I haven’t come across anything quite like this in all the ancient historical fiction I have read. Lemon’s writing is empathetic and hilarious and absolutely devastating. Simply magnificent.
Thank you so, so much to NetGalley and Penguin FigTree for this genuine privilege. I am an Editor in Classics at a major academic publishing house, and I’ll be recommending this to everyone I possibly can.
This book is absolutely genius, i loved it so much and it will definitely be one of my favourites of 2023. It's funny, heartwarming and brutal all wrapped up in one very interesting and well paced story. It's based upon some fact which really opened up my eyes to this part of history. It;s a tale of friendship, love, grief and loss, and how arts can bring people together to show us what really matters in life. My review really doesn't do this book justice, I can't get into words how much I enjoyed it and would encourage anyone to give it a read!
I loved this book! Glorious Exploits explores the fallout of the Sicilian Expedition during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. The protagonists are two normal men from Syracuse whom, on a whim, decide to use the Athenian prisoners to put on a play by Euripides. I read a lot of fiction about ancient Greece but rarely military fiction - as I read for research I usually read Greek myth retellings, but Glorious Exploits does very well what a lot of myth retellings lack. In particular, slavery is dealt with very thoughtfully, and at the forefront of the novel is always the humanity of the imprisoned soldiers from the losing side. Despite its serious topic, the novel is very funny and wonderfully written. A fantastic novel that I will definitely read again.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
A novel well worthy of our times, Glorious Exploits blinded me with its brilliance. Transported back to 412BC Syracuse where Athenian would-be-invaders, now prisoners of war, are kept in a quarry to die slowly of starvation. Enter Lampo and Gelon, potters by trade (out of work at the mo), and full of love for poetry written by Euripides. What, they wonder, would it mean if Athens was destroyed bringing an end to Euripides and his plays? Keen to keep the poetry of their enemy alive, they decide to put on a play of Medea and Trojan Women starring Athenian prisoners who are willing to trade their knowledge of these plays for food and wine.
On the face of things this is equal parts hilarity and cruelty, kindness and greed, genius and foolhardy. I laughed out loud, I shed a few tears. I was touched by the humanity of this Greek tragedy. I loved the casual Irish dialogue which worked surprisingly well in this context. A truly inspired novel that speaks to the heart of what it means to be human, I look forward to many more novels by this ingeniously talented writer.