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Margarita Karapanou. The Sleepwalker.

Margarita Karapanou. The Sleepwalker. Karen Emmerich, tr. Northampton, Massachusetts. Clockroot. 2011. 245 pages. $16. ISBN 978-1-56656-838-8

Like legendary artificer Dedalus, the late Margarita Karapanou has created a labyrinth in which we may become lost. The Sleepwalker opens with God, a world-weary character, hunched over, vomiting Oh a strange Grecian island and, specifically, on a man named Manolis. Such a downpour of "thick, putrid liquid" christens him as the new avant-garde Messiah and major player of the story. After Manolis, who is also an officer of the law, learns of a suspicious murder on the island, be interrogates--and befriends--a small community of expatriate artists and writers. Yet the story itself does not follow the rules of a murder mystery. Instead, it runs a course of wildly heterogeneous forms and styles, implementing extended philosophical discourse, several romantic vignettes, religious and national irony, and, of course, shades of magical realism. With such a layered narrative, we have no trouble suspending ourselves in Karapanou's imagination. Rather, the secret to any labyrinth is finding a way out.

Indeed, each chapter presents a minor piece to the puzzle, and we notice that the author plays with the notion of fragmentation throughout. One character, Mark, paints headless portraits. Another, Luka, can hardly begin to write her novel. Likewise, Alan cannot write a complete interior monologue. As Ron knits, Mark tells him not to finish the peacock pattern. We see that characters both frustrate themselves and take pleasure in unfinished products. Like flowers beginning to die at the very moment they begin to bloom, when Mark finally finished a portrait of Manolis, "he felt as if he were being wrapped ... in the sweet scent of death." Although this narrative revels in playful imagery, its tone and content often linger in dark and disturbing matter. And when the puzzle pieces fall together--or in the case of the labyrinth, when we arrive at the center--one character gets caught in a cycle of arrant violence.

Despite the excitement of bloodshed and sadistic sexual frenzy, the story never offers a fully satisfying conclusion. Karapanou's clever storytelling comes in light spurts, and she seems to speak through Alan when his character says, "I've turned all my thoughts into feelings, and now when I sit down to write, I use my pain crudely, coarsely, not to nourish my work, but as a sole source of inspiration--so that pain keeps bringing me back to myself." In similar fashion, The Sleepwalker fascinates us with a rush of vitality, and we relate to the expressions of human pain and uncertainty; but as this labyrinth winds and spirals toward a plausible terminus, we never truly find a complete story.

Blayze Hembree

University of Oklahoma
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Author:Hembree, Blayze
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2011
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