Magazine article The Spectator

Tragedy of Antigone

Magazine article The Spectator

Tragedy of Antigone

Article excerpt

The House on Paradise Street by Sofka Zinovieff Short Books, £12.99, pp. 336, ISBN 9781907595691

Sofka Zinovieff's absorbing first novel has two narrative voices. Maud is the English widow of Nikitas, whose death in a mysterious accident leads her to contact Antigone, the mother-in-law she has never met. A former Communist freedom fighter, Antigone was forced to leave Greece for the Soviet Union following the Greek civil war. She gave birth to Nikitas, her only child, in prison, and handed him over to her family when he was three years old, severing all further contact.

Maud was the third wife of the dominant, swaggering Nikitas. She remained passive throughout their marriage; now, liberated by his death, she starts asking the questions to which she ought always to have known the answers - answers which can be supplied only by Antigone.

Antigone and Maud have much in common. Both are widows. Both had only one child - Maud's is a daughter, Tig, named, perhaps surprisingly, after her absconding grandmother. Both chose to believe themselves content in their country of adoption, but loneliness has taken its toll. When Antigone's last Russian friend leaves for England, she is left mouldering in Moscow with only a hostile cat for company.

Maud's social life in Athens was largely orchestrated by the gregarious Nikitas; people like her, but no one seems very interested in her - they can't even pronounce her name. Tig has turned from responsive child into rebellious teenager. …

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