The Murderess, By Alexandros Papadiamantis trs Peter Levi

Reviewed,David Evans
Sunday 03 October 2010 00:00 BST

Alexandros Papadiamantis, regarded as the father of modern Greek literature, first published this remarkable novella in 1902. Set on the island of Skiathos, where the author spent much of his life, it tells the story of Hadoula, a middle-aged healer.

Maintaining a vigil over her sick granddaughter one night, Hadoula impulsively strangles the child. The murder seems a sort of mercy killing – Hadoula had mused on the misfortune of being born a poor woman in rural Greece, destined for a life of suffering and toil – but ultimately her motivation is obscure. She flees to the countryside, pursued by police and assailed by horrific visions.

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. But in its power and simplicity, Papadiamantis' tale seems also to hark back to an earlier tradition of folklore and myth.

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