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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Murderess

Alexandros Papadiamantis

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To purchase The Murderess

Title: The Murderess
Author: Alexandros Papadiamantis
Genre: Novel
Written: 1903 (Eng. 1983)
Length: 127 pages
Original in: Greek
Availability: The Murderess - US
The Murderess - UK
The Murderess - Canada
Les petites filles et la mort - France
Die Mörderin - Deutschland
  • Greek title: Η Φόνισσα
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Peter Levi

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Our Assessment:

B+ : stark

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Independent on Sunday . 3/10/2010 David Evans
TLS . 20/5/1983 Gabriel Josipovici

  From the Reviews:
  • "The Murderess possesses a strikingly modern sensibility. It is reminiscent of Albert Camus' The Outsider in its lyrical evocation of a Mediterranean landscape (olive groves, the "distant, flaming sea") and in the way it offers neither explanation nor censure for its protagonist's crime." - David Evans, Independent on Sunday

  • "It is books such as The Murderess which remind us of the miraculous nature of prose fiction. (...) It is stark, often clumsy, often moving, unlike anything in English (.....) The idiom is a combination of the elements of oral story-telling and the Orthodox liturgy, and it must have been a nightmare to translate; by and large Peter Levi seems to have done an admirable job." - Gabriel Josipovici, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Murderess depicts harsh and difficult country life -- and the difficult lot of women, especially -- in Greece in the late 1800s. "Hadoula, or Frankissa, or Frankojannou", as she is variously called, is a grandmother of about sixty who "saw that she had never done anything except serve others". Two of her sons have gone to America, a third -- who had attacked both her and one of his sisters -- is in jail, but it is the daughters and grand-daughters, and the need to provide them dowries when they are to be married off that weighs particularly heavily on her.
       The old woman is a tough old bird, and she's made some sort of life for herself and the children that still live with her and nearby. Now, however, with another newborn -- a sickly granddaughter -- it all gets to be a bit much for her, leading to the unthinkable.
       Papadiamantis is careful not to demonize the old woman. The horrific act isn't excused, but the build-up to it does make it seem plausible that:

But she was now out of her mind. She did not know very clearly what she was doing, nor did she admit to herself what she wanted to do.
       The life of girls and women in this culture and economy is so difficult that the old woman, in her semi-madness, can convince herself that it's better for all concerned for the poor little things to be put out of their misery. That's how she sees it when the next opportunity arises, and again at the next ......
       The circumstances fortunately quickly become suspicious -- "The coincidence was too great" -- and the old woman goes on the run, in a desperate and hopeless attempt to outrun justice. Needless to say, there's no happy end.
       Papadiamantis depicts harshest reality in The Murderess, describing a world in which one gets by, at best, and little more. In a way, the murderess has done fairly well, building a home, finding ways of earning some money for herself and her family, but it was never nearly enough. Tellingly, too, some of her independence comes from betrayal of even those who are closest, beginning with her stealing from her own mother. Family ties are meaningful but even they are frayed: the two sons in America haven't been heard from in ages, and the other stabs his own sister. (True, the sister protects the boy -- and the old woman does her best to save him, too -- but in fact they all have to be pretty happy that he's behind bars.) And, of course, there's the ultimate family betrayal that comes with the old woman's most desperate act, which turns her into 'the murderess' .....
       Compelling but unrelentingly stark, The Murderess is a small story of poverty and desperation that crush every last spirit. The old woman's horrible acts, and how she came to them, are convincingly presented, but one practically wants to turn away from witnessing what she finds herself driven to.
       This is raw social realism of the most uncompromising sort; it can be a bit tough to take, though Papadiamantis' presentation of the material and story is very good. It's certainly a memorable and haunting book.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 May 2010

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The Murderess: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Greek author Alexandros Papadiamantis (Ἀλέξανδρος Παπαδιαμάντης) lived 1851 to 1911.

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© 2010-2011 the complete review

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