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by Margarita Karapanou
Translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich
Reviewed by Amanda Meale

As the novel opens God is pondering his creation of mankind and feeling that he has made an error. "For the first time he felt sad, and deeply bored. He saw that his people were small and ridiculous, and he was gripped by an awful rage because he had created them with such love." From the heavens, God pours rain onto a Greek man called Manolis who is thus, unknowingly, baptised the new Messiah.

Manolis is a police officer on a Greek island that is partly populated by foreigners—artistic types seeking a paradise that will allow their creativity to flourish. The main characters are both eccentric and droll. Mark is a portrait-painter who cannot complete his works. His oeuvre consists of a multitude of headless forms, which his friends are secretly collecting and hoping to sell, one day, for a truckload of money. Ron knits incessantly and makes plans. Not one of the plans is implemented but he is compelled to continue. Maggie cooks astonishing, themed banquets for her friends. And then there is poor Luka, a writer who cannot put pen to paper and takes to drinking ink instead. As a kind of penance she also visits the slightly repulsive Anezoula and massages her legs as Anezoula tells strings of quirky stories. Karapanou throws her own vignettes into the mix and describes some farcical scenes which at times made me laugh out loud.

Then, suddenly, The Sleepwalker takes a very dark turn and we begin to understand God's disappointment. There is rape and a series of brutal murders. Honestly, I tried to avert my eyes while reading some of this but, well, it was part of the narrative so I pressed on. The artists' disillusionment with themselves and with the island moves to the foreground.

"The island was empty. It's beauty had once been soft and rounded, but had now taken on a jagged edge—even the birds now sang with shrill, harsh notes, and the seasons changed abruptly, as if a blade were falling and dividing one from the next before they had time to complete their cycle. The island had passed through all the stages of love, indifference and emptiness. Now it was full of hate."

I can't say much about the role of Manolis in all of this because to do so would be a terrible spoiler. He is "the sleepwalker" of the title, carrying out God's work without realising it. Like a sleepwalker, he is not responsible for his actions.

The Sleepwalker would make a terrific book club read. I imagine that, like myself, other readers will find many questions to be debated. Most of these are moral matters, but the many side stories beg the question as to how they relate to the narrative. While I've arrived at my own conclusions, I'm not sure they are correct. I thoroughly enjoyed this richly imagined novel with its blend of farce and tragedy and I highly recommend it to you.

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