A tender, elegant first novel that meditates on love's many varieties, its capacity to both wound and heal. After years of lukewarm domesticity, middle-aged Athenian Tasos falls in love with a much-younger woman. Marianna learns of the affair and divorces him; Leonora, frightened by Tasos' guilt and impotence as the marriage crumbles, also leaves him. The story follows all three as they strive to rebuild their lives, though it emphasizes Tasos' relationship with Felix, a gay English expatriate. At first simply friends, they eventually become lovers. Felix helps the taciturn Greek articulate his feelings about his confining marriage and painful affair; with speech comes relief, just as the graffiti inscriptions used as chapter titles throughout express "thoughts the writer can no longer bear to hold in silence in his heart." Tasos gently instructs his voluble, campy, and somewhat childish companion in the art of behaving occasionally like a grownup. Felix's first-person account alternates with chapters related by an unnamed friend of both men, who may also be the omniscient third-person narrator of sections describing Marianna's and Leonora's emotional odysseys. (Tasos' ex-wife finds happiness in an essentially platonic marriage to an older man who discreetly engages in sadistic homosexual trysts on the side; after a period of promiscuity, Leonora weds someone she will never love as ecstatically she did Tasos.) This narrative confusion is exacerbated by the fact that all the chapters feature the same musing, elegiac prose. It's lovely prose, however, just right for conveying the author's rueful insights into human weakness and neediness, as well as her infectious affection for her characters. Britisher Harbouri, who's lived in Greece since 1970, subtly impregnates her tale with Athens' unique physical and spiritual ambience: "the faint traces of thyme drifting from the mountains . . . easygoing amused tolerance hand in hand with fanaticism." An impressive debut from a writer who needs only a little more technical expertise to support her generous-hearted imagination.
Read full book review >