Books: The Case of the Particularly Irksome Courtesan ; the Maze by Panos Karnezis CAPE Pounds 12.99 Pounds 11.99 (+ Pounds 2.25 P&P PER ORDER) 0870 800 1122
Murrough O'Brien, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
In the deserts of Asia Minor, a terrible dream has died. The Greek expeditionary force sent into Anatolia in 1919 has been annihilated by the troops of Ataturk. Under the command of the morphia-ridden Brigadier Nestor, a lone brigade attempts to find its way back to the Aegean coast. But the desert seems endless, a maze of dust and delusion.
Panos Karnezis first came to prominence with Little Infamies, a collection of short stories about an unnamed Greek village. It was a stunning and refreshing debut: the characters perfectly realised, the invention coherent and reliably sinister, and the style as sturdy and unobtrusive as a good pair of walking boots. Inevitably perhaps, The Maze, his first novel, is itself rather like a collection of cameos. Each character is given his little history, and the plot is, to say the least, slight. Karnezis is too fertile a writer to disappoint, but the insouciance of style which served him so well in Little Infamies isn't always up to presenting the bigger infamies of war.
Brigadier Nestor has a lot on his mind. Quite apart from the urgent questions of where are they, how are they going to get home and where is the enemy, things seem to be loosening up alarmingly. A thief has been quietly whittling away at the brigade's little luxuries: the sugar has disappeared, the major's store of wine has been filched, and even the brigadier's cache of cigars is not safe. Added to this, a saboteur has been spreading seditious handbills throughout the brigade. An airman spots the ruined column of men and then promptly crashes. The airman is rescued, only to become the agent, later, of tragedy. Karnezis catches with poignant conviction the atmosphere of defeat: everyone is engaged on terribly important little tasks which have assumed a shrill urgency now that nothing really matters. The padre has his makeshift church which no one attends, the communist major has his impotent handbills, the brigadier his ever more intricate maps. And the elements, true to form, catch and make nothing of their projects. Like children searching in the rubble for some broken doll on which to lavish their love, the characters move about in a state of desperate whimsicality. …