The structure of Victoria Hislop’s book is unusual – a set of short stories with what feels like two framing devices. First we meet Ellie who has received a series of postcards from Greece intended for a previous occupant of her flat. Her interest is piqued, and fed up with her life she decides to visit Greece. On the morning she leaves for Athens, a notebook arrives. It tells the story of the man behind the postcards, and in it he includes short stories – accounts of people and places he has picked up on his travels.
Ellie almost feels like an irrelevance – she only surfaces a couple of times after the introduction.
The author of the notebook has been jilted. His emotional and physical journey unfold together engendering a real feeling of empathy as he works his way towards catharsis.
The short stories are the real substance of the book – and they give a vivid, sometimes dark, portrait of the people, culture, and places – with a mixture of history, urban myth, and traditions. Included are stories centred around vendettas, the cult of Byron and Delphi. A number of themes came out – the isolation of some communities who were suspicious of strangers, the place of women in a male dominated society, the legacy of occupation during WW2, but the overall impression was of a beautiful and vibrant country.
Some of us were left with a real desire to explore Greece, whilst others were put off visiting.