No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, May 23, 2016

2016/27: The Messenger of Athens -- Anne Zouroudi

'There are no gods.'
'Why so certain? Look.' He gestured towards the hillsides, and at the open sea. 'This is their terrain. They're not far away. Some say when the people stopped believing in them, they ceased to exist. But this view's still what it was when Jason built the Argo and the Minotaur was eating virgins in the labyrinth. Two thousand years, and nothing's changed; and don't think they’ve gone! Orthodoxy is just a fa├žade, a veneer. If you look around, really look' – he pointed to the centre of his forehead – 'using this eye, then you start to see. They're here. They’re watching. And interfering.'
Far inside his stomach came a shot of pain, as if a spiteful finger had found and poked at the heart of its disease. [loc. 764]

A young woman's body is found at the base of a cliff on a remote Greek island. Suicide, says the new Chief of Police indifferently: but the stranger who's just arrived from Athens, a fat man who calls himself 'Hermes Diaktoros', is determined to discover the truth. In the course of his conversations with the islanders, he discovers several unexpected truths. Every life he touches is affected by his visit.

The Messenger of Athens is a slow, leisurely novel, a gradual discovery of the facts about Irini's life and death. It's also a vivid depiction of the supposedly idyllic island life: a web of honour, deception, appearances and misogyny. Love and death, loneliness and self-imposed isolation, material and emotional poverty are displayed here. Zouroudi shows, rather than telling. One could make a case for the presence of the mythological: but nothing is definite.

Measured prose, some marvellous descriptions: but I didn't much like the novel, possibly just because the lives it described seemed so lacking in satisfaction or happiness.

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