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Stavroula Skalidi. Prodosia kai Egkatalipsi.

Stavroula Skalidi. Prodosia kai Egkatalipsi. Athens. Polis. 2008. 110 pages. 10 [euro]. ISBN 978-960-435-194-7

This urban "whodunit" by a new author with a title (Betrayal and abandonment) that sounds a bit purple and melodramatic, and which carries a number of first-time authorial faults, nevertheless packs several surprises in its slim volume. The narrator, a thirty-five-year-old hypochondriac curmudgeon caught in a dead-end job in his ma-andpa convenience store (ma and pa having both died)--in one of Athens's most deteriorated neighborhoods--inspires no confidence as a hero/sleuth when he takes it upon himself to discover what has become of his (only) favorite customer, a cultured octogenarian lady who relishes tormenting him with solicitous advice about putting more life into his existence and then mysteriously disappears one hot summer.

In fact, Eugene, the antihero, appears not as the active instigator of action but rather as the passive recipient of seemingly inexplicable attentions by a variety of characters: a pair of overly hospitable young students who take care of him when he faints outside the old-lady's apartment; a mysterious man who beats him ferociously one night; a junkie named after the angel of death. The assignation of Eugene as a modern-day Bartleby, a deadletter avatar, is further suggested by the frequent interruptions of his narrative by letters addressed to the old lady by key characters of her youth--her runaway father, her best friend who stole her fiance--which explain (futilely) why such a vibrant person would end up alone in a small decaying apartment.

Still, here this Bartleby's tragedy is seen from the inside, through the eyes of a bitter, tormented consciousness that, underneath his indifferent quietness, is seething with rage, indignation, and delusions of grandeur against the cruelty of his world. The almost-Dostoevskian mixture of uncanny perceptiveness and a dysfunctional ego that drives Eugene is tragically underscored by the fact that the narrative, as we soon learn, is offered while he is locked up in an insane asylum following a nervous breakdown--yet in truth, we realize later, serving an insanity-plea sentence for the old lady's murder, which Eugene himself committed to forestall being inevitably abandoned by her, too. In true postmodern fashion, then, the novel ends metaleptically with the madman seeking himself--a synecdoche for the insanely fragmented lives the modern world forces us all to live.

Christina Dokou

University of Athens
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Author:Dokou, Christina
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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