In Cacoyannis’ (The Dead of August, 2013) sophomore effort, a London man meets with a mysterious ghostwriter, taking him deep into his past.
Leon Cheam has made a lot of money in his lifetime. He currently lives in a large, semidetached home in London. His talent is painting Picassos—not reproductions but paintings so masterful they could be worthy of being called original unknown works by Picasso himself. He’s also a fan of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, so much so that he’s having some builders construct a replica of Gregor Samsa’s bedroom right in his own home. It’s a quirk, he admits, not craziness—“I am neither a lunatic nor a fanatic. My bedroom is an affectation, not a delusion.” He just wants to see what it will feel like to be abnormal. In the midst of this, a ghostwriter named Anna Tor contacts Leon. She knows about the Picassos, but she also seems to know about Leon’s past. She suggests she could write a book about him, if he’s interested, and out of curiosity he decides to meet her. Leon is intrigued: Anna knows his real name, she has eyebrows like his, and she touches on topics from the past that Leon has yet to resolve. As the two stroll around North London—a marathon talk that lasts upward of 24 hours—Anna and Leon reveal things to each other about their pasts that will take them all the way back to the beginning of the Chilean dictatorship in 1973. Cacoyannis’ talent for connecting art and literature with the personal lives of his characters is on full display. Leon’s artistic talent—not to mention the commerce of it all—is nearly a character unto itself, and recollections of difficult events are adeptly woven into the larger narrative. Anna and Leon are unpretentious, smart compatriots who stomp on familiar ground in London, and their growing connection, as well as the labyrinthine tale that emerges, is as unsettling as it is satisfying. The novel may not be as explosive as his first, but it’s nevertheless a unique tale about secrets and the quixotic nature of artistry.
A lively, multilayered novel that connects two uncommon souls to a shared past.