Michalopoulou puts a new spin on her favorite territory

When the heroine of the first story in Amanda Michalopoulou’s latest book, «Tha ithela» («I’d Like»), purloins a red beret from a sheet-covered body on a hospital gurney, we know we are in classic Michalopoulou territory. Her narrators – typically intense, introspective young women with a yen to write or paint – make a habit of stealing small but significant objects. But when that beret keeps reappearing in different guises in subsequent stories, it is clear that the author has extended the territory she so confidently staked out in her earlier fiction. Not only the beret but other motifs also recur – an ornamental ceramic cat, an almond blossom, the taste of whisky, aspirin, a dislocated finger – always in slightly different circumstances. The links go deeper than recurring images, however. The same characters appear from story to story, at different stages of their lives. Stella, the anxious, intensely self-conscious narrator, struggles with the material of her life and imagination until she finds the way to transform it into writing. Her mother, sister, father and his lover, and the wounds of childhood are revisited, re-imagined and seen through different viewpoints as one character almost merges into another. From the separate stories emerges a single, though fractured narrative, its threads woven into almost whole cloth in the final tale, «Orchestral.» Running in counterpoint to the narrative is an ongoing concern with art and writing, with finding one’s subject, the way to approach it and the courage to tackle it and to disregard the daunting influence of one’s admired literary forebears and the disapproval of one’s siblings. Different ways of seeing the universe and different ways of reshaping it in the form of art: These are favorite themes for Michalopoulou. The novelty here is the structure. By teasing the narrative out into self-contained but interlinked stories, the author plays competing versions off against one another, giving each of them weight before weaving them together at the end. «In What Will You Do Next?» half-way through this collection, a man idly calls his home number for want of anything better to do and is astonished when the telephone is answered by someone who claims to have invented him as a character. It works perfectly as a solo story, but it also belongs in the larger narrative as a dream reported by a lover of Stella’s, with the suggestion she use it as a story. Playful complicity In a note at the end of «Tha Ithela,» Michalopoulou states that her aim in writing the book was to create «short stories as versions of an unwritten novel or, rather, the biography of the stories and their invented author.» Kathimerini English Edition asked her more about her intentions. You said that «Why I Killed My Best Friend» marked the end of the post-modernist cycle; that your first three novels were about how to write a novel. But you’re at it again, writing about writing, about art. I guess that’s me. My inclination is stronger than any decision. I guess it happens in art, as in life. I can’t pretend very well that the person who is writing the story doesn’t exist, that the story is written by itself. This must be my strong connection to reality when I write. Anything can happen, no matter how strange or surreal, as long as we keep in mind that someone is writing. Your books are scattered with little hints and clues. For example, the cover of this book is purportedly designed by the fictitious Anna Horn, who appears as a character in other books of yours. I loved the «fabrication» of this cover; it is actually a part of the book – the way I changed the color to make it seem like a fictitious photo of the late ’70s, the way I signed with the name of a hero who was a visual artist in my previous novel. I love this playful complicity with the reader. And I want to keep some heroes alive. Like so much of your work, this book was written abroad. The book was written in Berlin during a one-year grant from the Daad [Kunstlerprogramm], the distance from my native language made all sounds different, simultaneously important and unimportant. I felt I had to keep the important information, and only that, so I started to take out adjectives and adverbs and ended up with a laconic text, which is very unusual for my temperament. It was written after two unsuccessful attempts to write a linear novel. I guess it wasn’t a linear era in my life, so my writing couldn’t imitate another situation. Where do you see your writing going next? I guess to more surreal stories. I’m starting to take a distance from reality, which is very therapeutic. The bibliography In addition to books for children, Amanda Michalopoulou has written two collections of short stories: «Life is Colorful Outside» (1994), which won the Revmata prize, and «I’d Like» (2005); and four novels: «Wishbone Memories» (1996), which won the Diavazo prize, «As Often As You Can Bear It» (1998), «Foul Weather» (2001) and «Why I Killed My Best Friend» (2003). Her adult fiction is published by Kastaniotis. Some of her novels have been translated into German and Italian, and some stories have been translated into English, Italian, German, Serbo-Croat and Czech. Michalopoulou recently read the story «What will you do next?» from «Tha ithela» at the English-language bookstore «Books in Berlin.» Another story from the same collection will be published in September in the German periodical Das Magazine.

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