What a novel! I’ve never read anything like this…
The Athenian Murders is a novel within a novel, supposedly written in Ancient Greece just after the Peloponnesian War. This novel’s translator, never named, seems to live in our modern world and starts obsessing over this text. His footnotes get more and more personal and disturbing throughout the text, adding another layer of mystery to the one told in the ancient novel. Are you still with me?
In the story originally written in Greek, a “Decipherer of Enigmas”, Heracles Pontor, is trying to solve gruesome murders taking place in Athens. But the translator is also convinced that the author resorted to eidesis, a (fictional) literary device consisting in ingraining an image in the reader’s mind through repeating words and phrases.
Consequently, readers find themselves constantly gathering clues to guess what each chapter of this intricate, incredibly well thought-out novel is about. It must be even more fascinating to read it with a deep knowledge of Ancient Greece, since the author refers to the Twelve Labors of Heracles and Plato’s philosophy (hence the original title, La caverna de las ideas, The Cave of Ideas).
The novel grows darker, both the main story and the one unravelled in footnotes, so that I felt trapped in the last pages, wanting to know the end but feeling really ill-at-ease at the same time. I definitely recommend The Athenian Murders to mystery novel lovers who will probably appreciate the plot as well as the book’s literary richness.
More than an enthralling novel, Somoza’s book gives us food for thought. The Athenian Murders is all about fiction, reality, writing and literature. Words are more than mere letters printed on paper, they conjure up images that have a real power. Real? Well, at least, they have some degree of power.
This sentence summarises really well what I got from the novel:
“This isn’t magic, just literature.”
— The Athenian Murders, José Carlos Somoza, p. 199
Readers don’t know what is true, what isn’t, what is happening, what is fantasised.
Lost in Athens’ streets, I got caught up in the game and ended up quite stunned, not really knowing what to think about The Athenian Murders.
Is it genius or just really weird? I’d say it’s a bit of both.
About the book
Publication year: 2002 (first published in the Spain in 2000)
Translator (the real one!): Sonia Soto
Page count: 314