Of Love and the Invisible by Yórgos Panayotídis

Of Love and the Invisible 
by Yórgos Panayotídis
Gavriilidis Publications, Athens 2008

Sometimes, especially in the countryside, there are people with special abilities. Idiosyncratic people, living in a world of their own, whose very existence becomes a legend. Ioannis, who works in a second-hand bookshop-cum-printers’ office, comes across a book about three such people, three “saints”, and decides to abandon his job and go off on a journey in search of them, searching at the same time for himself.
     He is followed on his quest by a woman, Erimia (Desolation). In love with Ioannis, Erimia decides to join him on his journey. Like him, she too is searching for her own “sacred” love.
    Perhaps by chance, perhaps by design, they are joined by a third, a Cleric sent by the Church. This third character is on a quest to find the three “saints” in order to examine their stories from a theological standpoint.
    Three people, each on their own quest. Three different but interconnected journeys, in which reality and dreams intertwine.
     Strange figures join Erimia and the Cleric on their journey. Chiron the Centaur, perhaps in the role of Satan. An old man, who despite having only one eye can see both sides, forms the link between reality and fantasy and acts as a source of guidance and explanation for the story’s three main characters.
     This an eminently readable book thanks to the style of the narration, which proceeds in the linear fashion demanded of a thriller. The language and style are similarly straightforward, derived from popular tradition. Some parts of the book hark back to popular music, others to folk legends. The language is marked by a biblical undertone. The apocalyptic element blends with the hedonistic. The book highlights the tragic incompatibility of a body starved of pleasure and the dryness of faith.
    Panagiotidis’s novel “Of Love and the Invisible” is one of the finest examples of magic realism from Greece. This alone is enough to justify the award it received from the literary magazine “Diavazo”, the rapturous response it has received from critics and the quality press – Elisavet Kotzia of “Kathimerini”, Vasilis Kalamaras of “Eleftherotypia” and Kostas Katsoularis of “Eleftheros Typos” and the intense discussion among the famous and the not-so-famous on blogsites since the book was published.
    Many co-existing strands have been woven into the storyline; Orthodox doctrine, the texts of the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church, the tales of saints, ancient myths, folk legends, folktales of ghosts and haunted sites, magic fairy stories. All these elements are bound together by a true story, or rather by a story that could indeed be true.
    A non-literary counterpart to the novel can be found in the early films of Lars von Trier, in which the hero is hypnotised and enters a devastated parallel reality from which he is unable to escape. “Of Love and the Invisible” likewise proves, as it comes to an end, to be a tale of imprisonment in a world of eternal repetition.


All things visible and invisible (From the Orthodox Creed)
By Elisavet Kotsia

An inner journey, an existential adventure, an investigative quest, an illusory mirage, a long journey that will end in another long journey, a never-ending story. Giorgos Panagiotidis’s novel “Of Love and the Invisible” (Gavriilidis Publications, p.265) won this year’s “Diavazo” magazine’s award for the best novel. A mystery story of saints and demons, of non-corporeal entities and ghostly heroes, of saints and of mayhem, of miracles and visions, of souls inflamed with erotic passion and consciences aflame with passion of truth. A poetic version of the world in which the expression of its tones at times reminds us of Homer and the Holy Scriptures, at others of “The Woman of Zakynthos” and the “Revelation of St. John”. Nonetheless, this is story with unity and satisfying cohesion, whose events interweave naturally as an anguished searching soul is buffeted relentlessly throughout the course of an adventurous journey into the unknown.
    Waking from a terrifying nightmare, the narrator finds himself on a train, sitting opposite the diminutive figure of an unknown woman. The woman seems to have lost a loved one, and so he names her Erimia (Desolation). As we soon discover, she is on a journey to discover her platonic lover Ioannis, who has himself set off forty-eight hours earlier to visit three so-called saints in a distant, unidentified place. These three characters believe that they have spoken to God, each of them following an accident or illness that brought them so close to death that they saw His great light. The narrator himself is a priest who is travelling to ascertain for the Church authorities if the alleged saints are violating the dogma and rules of the official Christian Church. Together, the two travellers will cross plains and mountains, travel on foot and by ship, make their way to mountain and island villages, encountering odd characters and hearing strange stories.
   “Of Love and the Invisible”: Symmetry and asymmetry are concepts invoked initially by the title of the novel and thereafter - repeated ritually – within the structure of the chapters, which, to give an idea, goes like this “The Beginning of the World”, “the book”, “living with the dead”, “love”, “the old man”, “the first place”, “the holy hunter”, “the church, the cross and the bull”, “the first account from the old man”, “Chiron (the centaur son of Cronus)”, “the illusion”, “the villager preparing his boat for the underworld” and “the old man’s second account”. I have noted the chapters’ titles in detail because they also give a vibrant image of the relationship of Giorgos Panagiotidis’s narration with the mythological motif, the allegories, the magic fairy story, the sacred texts and the folk tales-elements which, in combination with his descriptive talent and narrative gifts, highlight the realistic detail and help the author to transform an unbelievable dream world into a tangible reality. Hidden passions, chimerical reverie, unconfessed desires, impure intercourse, unexpected encounters, irresistible urges, uncontrolled obsession and raging reactions. Torn between love and death, longing for the divine, murderous rage, Panagiotidis’s solitary and utterly maladjusted heroes inhabit a ritual universe of symbolic gesticulation and repetition of events, experiencing the mystic as it if were utterly everyday and contemporary. I shall not reveal the ending – to do so would destroy the reader’s pleasure in finding out for himself what takes place later on the story – will Erimia finally come face to face with the object of her passion, Ioannis? The narration, though, spirals towards the negative. It is not benediction, holiness and the divine which prevail – it is contamination, impiety and sacrilege. And thus, the heroes’ mystic experience does not lead to miraculous union but rather to the reappearance of the fleeing spirit, inculcating within us the feeling that we are faced with a nightmare that will recur ad infinitum. Shadows, apparitions, demons and ghosts. But is there any real reason these days to be interested in a story inspired by the metaphysical which takes place and comes to a conclusion entirely within a world of fantasy? I believe there is, because Panagiotidis has created his own special universe within his prose, effectively wielding the complex tools of literature to comment on events taking place in its inner reaches.

(08-06-2008,  newspaper "kathimerini")

The suprise
by Kostas Katsoularis

    WHAT SUPRISES US nowadays is coming across a novel like this one from 43 year-old Giorgos Panagiotidis – his first prose work after completing three collections of poems. It is not so much the language he uses – unusually “complex”, frequent long sentences, multiple similes and audaciously conceived images to create a sense of unfamiliarity – it is the continuous vacillation between two worlds, the world above and the world below, between sleep and wakefulness, fantasy and reality; it is the feeling that the characters who inhabit the world the author has created will never find peace.
    THE NARRATOR wakes up on a train, tormented by a dark dream. Opposite him is a woman, a book on her lap. He can read the pages of the book with his mind’s eye, and what he reads is what happens page by page in our book.
     HER –Erimia (Desolation) is the name given by the narrator to the woman, as she seems to him to resemble “what remains after pillage”. She lost her parents and her brother while she was a small child and has spent a life of utter deprivation. She has now set off in pursuit of the one and only love of her life, Ioannis, whom she met in a secondhand bookshop, a meeting which has woken within her an appetite for life.
    HIM –“True” is the name chosen for him by the narrator “without knowing why”, as he admits. He is the only son of a prostitute, trapped in the form of the woman who brought him into the world, while she has long since left him. He is now on a journey to find three “Saints” who have not been formally acknowledged by the Church, but who nevertheless attract the faithful like moths to a candle.
    THE NARRATOR –who, we soon learn, somewhat to our surprise, is a clergyman – follows the woman on the pretext that he is on a mission from the Church to pursue false prophets and heretics. He remains near to her; they follow a parallel course; but towards the final pages all conversation between them has ceased, as if the woman is completely ignoring him or cannot even see him.
   THROUGHOUT THEIR JOURNEY from village to village, the narrator is pursued by a one-eyed old man, an alcoholic dressed in rags, who at different points in the story addresses him, answers his queries and creates dilemmas for him. In addition, sometimes in his imagination, at other times in the narrative reality – in other words in his own reality, given that the novel is narrated in the first person – he comes into contact with various beings who charm and challenge him. The ending inventively imposes a new aspect on all that has happened in the story, which acquires a cyclical quality that vindicates it.
   “DARKNESS, impenetrable and devoid of sound or image, a warm dark covering like the eyelid of God, hermetically sealed and silently swaddling the soul like the peaceful depths of the abyss.” This phrase, with its two emblematic “likes” in the twist of each sentence, “God” with a capital “G”, impenetrable, charged, ripe, gives us an idea of Panagiotidis’s individual style. The text brims with quotes from the Holy Scriptures, the Epistles of St. Paul and the texts of the Holy Fathers, which heighten the apocalyptic tone. Between a dream and a nightmare, with images and feelings that imprint themselves in our minds, the story transmutes the private agony of individuals without hope who have been trapped - their urges, their desires, their will to live – into a death-seduced and other-worldly Christian universal idol. For discovery.

(Published in the June edition of the literary magazine Diavazo, in the column Kontra Diavasma. Panagiotidis, the author, had not yet won the Diavazo award for best novel when this review was written.)