Praise for Margarita Karapanou

 

sleepwalker The Sleepwalker

 

On a Greek island where writers and painters gather, a new messiah sent down by a bored and bitterly disappointed God introduces mayhem to set straight the “small and ridiculous” beings who put pleasure and beauty above Law. Originally published in 1985, but available in English only now, Karapanou’s second novel (following Kassandra and the Wolf, 1974) helped establish her as one of Greece’s most admired postmodernists. The author, who died in 2008, also established herself with these books as one of the most wicked and unsparing observers of modern life. Her artist characters are all suffering to begin with, bogged down in unfinished or unrealized works and lost in unfulfilling relationships. A painter is able to turn out only headless figures. A novelist who is too self-absorbed to enter his characters imagines “a violent death that might put me, just for a second, into the state you need to be in if you’re going to write.” His fantasy is realized. When the messiah, a cop named Manolis, takes his place among them, all charm and comfort on the surface but with devilish aims inside him, dark forces sweep through the community, leading to rape and murder and disappearances. Part crime novel, part satire, part metafiction, part phantasmagoria, the book is anything but somnambulant. Karapanou writes with a headlong intensity, maintaining a jaundiced but playful tone even when the violence is at its most shocking. There’s a kind of centrifugal force at work, pulling the large cast of characters helplessly toward a heart of darkness. An absurdist tour de force about lost souls and a lost deity by a criminally neglected Greek novelist.
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

 

Karapanou never fails to surprise.
—Thalia Pandiri, in Metamorphoses

 

Reading the late Karapanou’s (1946–2008) dizzying novel, which won the French prize for best foreign novel, is like sleepwalking, as the title suggests. The story takes place on a small, unnamed Greek island steeped in intrigue, sexuality, deception, mysticism, and crawling with cheeky expatriate artists. Manolis is the police officer who governs the town but more than that, he is the handsome, slim-hipped, tortured, and violent son of God. Each chapter, told from the perspective of Manolis and the various ex-pats, is a short story of its own, ranging in style from magic realism to horror. The sum of these parts is an engrossing novel that entrances readers, enabling them to understand its cast of motley characters’ incomprehensible actions—many played out in dreams. The tenor of Karapanou’s (Kassandra and the Wolf) final novel is best summed up by Manolis himself, as he observes the group of characters who come and go from his island: “The others just drank and cried and used art to disguise their hopelessness; for them art was the last stop, their final excuse to live a little longer.”
Publishers Weekly

 

Karapanou’s second novel The Sleepwalker confirmed her reputation as one of Greece’s most talented postmodern writers and one of her most imaginative chroniclers of human alienation. ... her writing has a haunting, mesmerizing quality and a brutal, seductive power that keeps the reader engrossed to the very last line.
— Valentina Zanca, Words Without Borders

 

Like legendary artificer Dedalus, the late Margarita Karapanou has created a labyrinth in which we may become lost.
World Literature Today

 

[In Sleepwalker] Margarita Karapanou leads us into the labyrinth where God lives. One must read her as one reads Rimbaud or Blake.… Karapanou’s insistence on tearing off our everyday clothes and ridiculous masks makes her, indeed, a truly remarkable writer.
—Jerome Charyn, Le Monde

 

Margarita Karapanou writes as if riding a wild horse, holding tight to its mane. If she had written in English, today the whole English-speaking world would be talking about her.
—Amanda Michalopoulou

 

kassandra Kassandra & the Wolf

 

Karapanou… write[s] of childhood with such lyric ferocity; her Kassandra and the Wolf has the jagged fantastic substance of [Bruno] Schulz’s long story “Spring,” with a vicious pre-pubescent sexual element chillingly added.
—John Updike, New York Times

 

Though Kassandra and the Wolf received considerable attention in France, it has been almost entirely neglected in this country, until last fall when John Updike mentioned it in a lead article in the New York Times Book Review. There Updike wondered if the barely known Hungarian genius Bruno Schulz had “emboldened” Karapanou to write of childhood with “such lyric ferocity.” The answer is likely no, that Proust, Camus, and Ionesco sharpened her sensibility (she knew the latter two) and that Greek writers, like Yannis Ritsos, provided the “emboldening.” The lyric ferocity is her very own, inimitable…
—Lois Welch, The Guardian

 

A frank, poetic, uncluttered graph of the state of childhood.
—Edna O’Brien

 

No retelling of Kassandra and the Wolf can explain its charm, or its riddles.… [It] is one of those rare creations that come alive mysteriously, without any antecedents. The book is original, terrifying, complete. It invents its own history, eases in and out of nightmare as it mingles dream and fact. Kassandra and the Wolf is a short, muscular novel with an absolute sense of craft.… The language throughout is merciless and crisp. Wherever Margarita Karapanou has come from, wherever she goes, Kassandra and the Wolf, remains a stunning achievement: a lovely, sinister book.
—Jerome Charyn, New York Times

 

To read these two experimental works [Kassandra and Rien] is to realize the magnitude of the loss when Greek novelist Margarita Karapanou died quite suddenly in 2008. Kassandra offers a disturbing portrait of childhood. A six year old girl, a stutterer, is victimized by sexual abuse she cannot begin to fathom, her vocabulary drawn from the lurid imagery of fairy tales (the wolf). So brutalized, Kassandra cannot express emotions: given a doll to love, she cuts off its legs and arms; given a kitten to tend, she beats it, drowns it, and then lovingly wraps it in a blanket. The novel disquiets, un-eases, disturbs, but intrigues. There is a coolness to its execution, Karapanou’s testing of the limited perceptions of an emotionally damaged child who cannot speak for herself compels focus less on harrowing events and more on their translation into lyric story. The same is true of the later work, Rien ne va plus. Karapanou executes a deft experiment that suspends events between experience and their redesign into fiction. A passionate woman marries a gay veterinarian, falls precipitously out of love with him, samples the ‘exotic’ spell of a lesbian relationship, and ultimately returns to her husband only to abort the child they conceive—well, maybe. Karapanou also works in, in an intriguing contrapuntal fashion, the story of a woman, a novelist, finishing a manuscript that renegotiates the reality of her own failed marriage by conceiving it as the freighted allegory of a woman who marries a gay vet, who falls precipitously out of love with him, etc. Which story is ‘the’ story—the creation of a soon-to-be-published manuscript or the collapse of a relationship? Like Kassandra, the narrative is harrowing in its implications but cool to the touch, audacious in its uncompromising commitment to test the integrity of narrative itself. The title—the last call at a roulette table signaling the players are ready to hand their fortunes over to fate—reminds Karapanou’s reader of the privilege of narrative: rendering brutal event into elegant design.
—Josephy Dewey, Review of Contemporary Fiction

 

rien Rien ne va plus

 

Rien ne va plus is one of the most haunting, affecting novels I've ever read. Brilliantly translated by Karen Emmerich, Karapanou's words have stayed with me like the afterglow of a flash, or the sting of a punch.
Jonathan Safran Foer

 

In her first [sic] English translation, Greek novelist Karapanou (1946–2008) details a complicated marriage between a successful veterinarian and an incipient writer, with several intriguing outcomes. On their wedding night, naïve bride Louise witnesses her icily handsome, urbane husband, Alkiviadis, proposition a boy in a bar. Humiliated but attracted by her husband's homosexuality, Louise is nonetheless repelled by his need to control her; what follows is a crushing divorce and, then, a suicide. But that's just the first draft; Karapanou resets her story with recombined leads and an even darker slant; in this version of events, Alkis is an adoring husband who wants a baby, and Louise is a spoiled, manipulative, self-destructive character repulsed by Alkis's offer of stability and unconditional love. Ghastly details of pregnancy and abortion alternate with charming episodes of travel and discovery, such as Louise's visit to America in mismatched company. Beginning simply, this remarkable tale escalates in conflict and complexity, and proves even more engaging the second time through.
Publishers Weekly, October 2009

 

This entire novel deserves, and repays, close attention and more than one reading.
—Thalia Pandiri, in Metamorphoses

 

Karapanou is one of Greece’s most beloved novelists, yet she remains relatively unknown in the US, despite having fans like John Updike and Jonathan Safran Foer. Rien ne va plus, originally published in 1991, has only now been translated into English, just one year after Karapanou’s death. A gesture toward the author’s continued legacy, this translation delivers the essence of the author’s style, a delicate balance between dark and light, haunting scenes cut with sharp ironic wit. Rien ne va plus, the phrase that is delivered in roulette when ‘the game becomes fate,’ is a central metaphor for Karapanou because her novel tells the story of the dissolution of a marriage twice: first from the point of view of the wife, the second using a rearrangement of themes from the first. Karapanou’s concern is the pain of love—the trauma of giving oneself over to another and the fear of trust—though Karapanou’s pleasure is analyzing how these emotions affect the subconscious depths of her characters. These feelings reverberate deeply in Rien ne va plus as the threads that lead the reader from one chapter to the next, wherein the history of the marriage she has created is playfully jumbled. As rien ne va plus connotes this feeling of either/or, win or lose, Karapanou’s treatment of fear and love worms its way into the reader’s memory with its suggestion that it is emotions that are sturdy, while our lives are what is left to chance.
—Carianne King, Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 2010

 

Rien Ne Va Plus tricks its reader by a rapid mid-point shift from realism to metafiction—but only after the reader has fallen in love with Karapanou’s writing, and her inimitable main character… Set primarily in Glyfada, Greece, the roiling European excesses of this book (anchored by the opera La Traviata and Giorgione’s painting La Tempesta) please and astound. Larger-than-life characters such as Vanessa and Aunt Louise, the panoply of domestic animals, and an aphoristic section composed of existential meditations all contribute to this fiction of fictions, whose explorations of the nature of love, sadomasochism, and self-discovery invoke the work of Kate Chopin, Mary Gaitskill, and Kate Braverman’s Lithium for Medea, in turns. “The end has arrived,” says the narrator, resting between transformations. “But not even that can release me. Because there is no End. Amen.”
—Virginia Konchan, Foreword

 

In Véronique Olmi’s French bestseller, Beside the Sea, a mother brings her two children to a beachside hotel, then smothers them to death with a pillow. In Margarita Karapanou’s Rien Ne Va Plus, a married couple torture each other while the author punishes the reader with a series of contradictory plot lines. … Olmi is cruel to no conceivable end, but Karapanou uses pain to make a point.
—Tommy Wallach, on PRI’s The World

 

The book moves skilfully between a host of distinct opposing notions like angels and demons, truth and lies, love and hatred, and master and slave, as Karapanou explores the big questions of love, and life.
—Akeela Gaibie-Dawood, Belletrista

 

... [A] bitter modernist morsel.
—Ray Olson, Booklist

 

* For more about Margarita Karapanou, see the interesting roundtable about her work up on the Quarterly Conversation.

 

* For extended discussion of all three of these Karapanou novels, see George Fragopoulos’s “Violence and Evasion: The Novels of Margarita Karapanou” at the Critical Flame.

 

* A review by Kristin Thiel of Kassandra and Rien together is up at Rain Taxi.