Friday, June 01, 2007

Review: Koula by Menis Koumandareas

Menis Koumandareas. Koula
Translated from the Greek by Kay Cicellis

Published by Dalkey Archive Press

Reviewed by Paul Kane

Koula is a novella that is concerned with concupiscence and its consequences.

Koula is a novella that is concerned with concupiscence and its consequences. Over an all-too brief 88 pages, it charts the stormy course of an affair between an older woman – the eponymous Koula -and a younger man. Koula first meets Dimitri on the subway, and their beginning, hesitant conversation gradually leads on to something more.

One of the author’s most attractive qualities is a predilection for placing his two characters in challenging predicaments and then seeing whether, and how, they cope. Here, there are finely wrought descriptions of excitement and hesitancy, tenderness and passion, ecstasy and anger, infatuation anddisillusion. There is jealousy, deceit, guilt and (at the end) a barely held together indifference. And for a man (so it seems to me, although I’m not entirely qualified to judge, admittedly) Koumandareas is particularly good at conveying the inner life of a middle-aged woman in the grip of a not entirely healthy (‘twas ever so) erotic obsession.

Koula has something of the same quality as Raymond Radiguet’s The Devil in the Flesh, another novella about an illicit affair, but without quite the same age difference, of course. Also, Radiguet’s story is not told from the woman’s point of view.

The translator, Kay Cicellis, a writer of some substance herself, has done an excellent piece of work. She has rendered Koula into a sophisticated, richly lyrical English prose that brings out all of Koumandareas’ literary art and emotional subtlety. Overall, this is a novella of great literary distinction.

Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and can be contacted at pkane853@yahoo.co.uk

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