Margaríta Karapánou Susannah Clapp - Essay

Susannah Clapp

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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.