A friend left this behind on our bookshelves after staying with us. It’s a collection of short stories all about the collapse of families and communities with the Greek economic crisis. The first thing to be said is that the writing is beautiful. It is poetic and rhythmic, with striking images, and with most of the stories told in the first person, has this urgency about it, these incantations against illness and death and small hopes for the future. I earmarked a passage where a narrator is observing a friend: ‘the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes look like prints left by small birds on wet earth, so many tiny wrinkles, like carved likes, like the prints of birds that took fright at something and rose up into the air.’
I mean, wow. He makes an unusual simile, infusing the earthiness of age and wet earth into this character, and then twists the simile to add anxiety and flight.
And yet the stories seem like extended poems, all on the same themes. They are people in trauma, losing their jobs or having lost their jobs, surrounded by urban violence and poverty, in the midst of struggles or injustices. The narrators change from young to old, from male to female, from pensioner to laid-off factory worker, but I found the sameness of tone oppressive. And in fact, I couldn’t make it past two-thirds through. I never used to leave books unfinished. It could be a sign of my shortened attention span, honed in the last years towards short, journalistic articles and addictive TV shows; or a lack of empathy: I found myself turning away rather than towards these narrators’ misery.
A final note: it’s been a while since I’ve held in my hands a book that is such a beautiful object. A tactile, textured cover, high quality paper, an unusual shape and format. It just felt good to hold it.