The Greeks Have a Word for It (Unsworth)

I turn to Unsworth like I (far too often) turn to comfort food. I can rely on him to depict both time and place in a way that simply transports me. Though Morality Play and Sacred Hunger will always be tough to beat, this one is another reminder of just how great a writer he was – one of the most underrated, I think.

This one is less specific about time than most, but his rendering of the place – Athens – is exquisite. Two men get off a boat in Athens. Both are there for very different reasons, and there is every indication that they will cross paths in the city. And they do – periodic and awkward encounters – as each travels his own, almost desperate path. And so it is that in the end, when they cross paths one more time, we are fully ready to believe that this last meeting would happen in this way and that each man (and a woman who one has picked up along the way) gets what s/he deserves. Unsworth, in just under 200 pages, wisely keeps to a small cast of characters. Each one is fully realized; each one gets his or her due. Every minor character is purposeful. Every moment is needed.

The star of the story is definitely Athens, though, in a time unknown (mid 20th century, some quick research suggests) just after the Greek Civil War, a piece that’s central to the fate of one of the men.

Not the first Unsworth I’d recommend, but definitely one worth reading.

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