Margaríta Karapánou Essay - Critical Essays

Karapánou, Margaríta

Introduction

Jerome Charyn

No retelling of "Kassandra and the Wolf" can explain its charm, or its riddles. A first novel by Margarita Karapanou,… "Kassandra and the Wolf" is one of those rare creations that come alive mysteriously, without any antecedents. The book is original, terrifying, complete. It invents its own history, eases in and out of nightmare as it mingles dream and fact.

"Kassandra and the Wolf" is a short, muscular novel with an absolute sense of craft. It is never sentimental, pretty or overblown. Margarita Karapanou understands that a story is nothing more than detail, detail, detail; we can howl about meaning, mutter little truths about character and development, but it is the placement of words in a particular order that makes a landscape credible, that forces us to believe in Kassandra, her grandmother, and Fani…. The language throughout is merciless and crisp. Wherever Margarita Karapanou has come from, wherever she goes, "Kassandra and the Wolf" remains a stunning achievement: a lovely, sinister book. (pp. 14, 18)

Jerome Charyn, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 25, 1976.

[In "Kassandra and the Wolf," the] adult world, or that part of it which is sexual and violent, [is] seen through the eyes of a precocious (to put it mildly) six-year-old girl named Kassandra. Miss Karapanou's first novel, which is fairly arresting at first because of the shock of reading about a small child's absorption with violence and sex, is really a collection of surreal vignettes about the child's relatives, servants, and playmates in Athens. All the vignettes are quite short—rarely longer than one or two pages—and all exemplify what the publisher calls Kassandra's "pristine sadomasochism."…

[It] all becomes terribly repetitive and boring, and even the violent sadomasochism takes on an unpleasant fashion-magazine chichi. (p. 79)

The New Yorker (© 1976 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), August 2, 1976.

Michael G. Cooke

Karapanou [in Kassandra and the Wolf] exploits the frissón of the child-narrator vis-à-vis the harsh perversities of soidisant adult sexuality, and with the license of a fairy tale she goes in heavily for metamorphosis. She alludes to Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, but she really pays homage to William Blatty's The Exorcist. Algolagnia, martyrdom, crucifixion, procrusteanism, suicide games, slaughterhouses, dementia crowd upon metamorphoses in this brief but repetitious book, which ranges in effect from fairly titillating to unfairly tedious. The staccato form—fifty-six sections and 115 pages—fragments instead of concentrating attention. It does not do violence to the work to cherish and regret the isolation of two sets of instruction concerning bedroom etiquette, from Fani the joyously sensual maid, and from Grandmother, that perpetual virgin of the mind. (p. 152)

Michael G. Cooke, in The Yale Review (© 1976 by Yale University; reprinted by permission of the editors), Autumn, 1976.

Kimon Friar

Kassandra and the Wolf may technically be described as a series of loose, unchronological episodes pretending to be a novel, as told by a girl just beginning grade school. From the psychoanalytical point of view—the wrong one—it may be read partly as the polymorphous, perverse life of a little girl learning what in technical terms are perversions. But Katrapánou is too knowing in the ways of psychoanalysis to make of her book a case history. Those psychoanalytically or pornographically oriented will find ample ammunition for misinterpretation….

Grandmother Sappho, when she is not reading The Brothers Karamazov, teaches Kassandra that well-bred girls who grow up to be ladies must never show they like the act of love…. But on the other hand, there are the servants. "My child," says Fani, the scullery maid, "learn the secrets under the sheet, open your legs, and let the little stars and hurricanes into your belly." It is no wonder that the little girl cannot sleep nights, as she broods: "I've got plenty of time before I become a nice Lady."

Karapánou's triumph is that she has transcended her technical insights and in this sublimated fiction has written a hilarious and moral indictment of the adult world. This is seen through the eyes of a child who is neither moral nor immoral but simply as amoral as a kitten; yet we must never forget that the insights are those of the mature woman who has created...

(The entire section is 551 words.)

Susannah Clapp

[Kassandra and the Wolf] is admirably ambitious both in matter and manner. Short, unlinked episodes, headed like chapters in a child's primer—"The Lesson", "The Plasticine", "The Picnic"—mix probability and possibility, savagery and sweetness in unpredictable proportions. In short, determined sentences Kassandra explains that the local slaughterhouse is one of her favourite loitering-places, that she bites governesses, and is being read The Turn of the Screw at bedtime. But most of the information is more exotic and more slippery….

Kassandra and the Wolf is best at showing a particular version of childhood; as a state where everything has significance and nothing has consequence. It is this which makes its fantasies persuasive. The ordinarily odd and the extravagant are nailed with the same amount of detail and the same lack of circumstantial proof: there is no immediate way of distinguishing fact from fantasy—only contradiction by subsequent stories….

Of course, some fantasies are more interesting than others, and dud dreams stand out. Kassandra's more sweaty imaginings, involving bananas and beddings and father-figures racing along the sea-shore, are not particularly illuminating. But the moments at which the novel lashes itself into excitement are outweighed by a general steadiness of tone. Miss Karapanou has perfected a style which does not sound weeny and does not sound arch, but which manages, by its jumbling together of the trivial and the enormous, and by a staccato manner of delivery which makes most observations into actions, to sound out of tune with adult life without sounding like a translation. It is a style which accommodates both realism and excess, and which enables Kassandra to chronicle striking states of emotion and moral disintegration in the shape of the grown-up figures who flit in and out of the scenes. In cataloguing the despairs of dypsomaniac aunts, masturbating governesses and MPs' mistresses, her coolness inevitably has on occasion some tinge of the cute, but she never appears merely as an emblem of childhood, nor as a particularly horrid little girl.

Susannah Clapp, "Nursery Notions," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1978; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), November 17, 1978, p. 1347.