A novel with many twists and turns

2012-09-05 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

The House on Paradise Street

Sofka Zinovieff

Short Books

 

MAUD is an English woman who moved to Greece to marry Nikitas, an older man who charmed her when she visited that country as part of her university studies.

We meet her after she has been married to the Greek charmer long enough to have a brooding teenaged daughter by him, and as she learns of his death in a terrible car accident.

As Maud faces her grief, she becomes aware that there were secrets about his life that Nikitas had never revealed to her. She discovers though that he shared them with a young researcher. Dreading that Nikitas may have had an affair with her, Maud begins to probe exactly what the nature of their relationship was.

She knows that Nikitas had not seen his mother Antigone since he was an infant. She had deserted him and moved to Russia, ostensibly to escape the aftereffects of the Greek civil war, which she fought in as a revolutionary against the occupying Nazis in the forties. On the day of Nikitas’s funeral his mother arrives in Greece, having come to pay her respects to the son she never knew, and get to know the family he left behind.

Maud and Antigone begin to talk to each other and as their relationship develops she starts to understand why her mother-in-law abandoned her son, to be cared for by a man who never loved him and treated him with extreme cruelty. Also woven into the beautifully told story are the lives of Nikitas’s children, young adults who are staging a new revolution of their own on the streets of Athens, angry at a regime that they feel shows them scant respect.

The narratives of the three generations are brilliantly presented, and there are many good twists and turns when you least expect them. Zinovieff writes really well, with a sense of gravitas that is carried through the book. Her descriptions of the Greek landscapes and culture really place you right in Greece, in the different periods referred to. Well worth a read.

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