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The Athenian Murders by José Carlos Somoza

The Athenian Murders (2000)

by José Carlos Somoza

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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» See also 53 mentions

English (17)  French (4)  Spanish (2)  Dutch (2)  All languages (25)
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
At best mediocre. I simply couldn't suspend my disbelief at the underlying conceit of the novel, and the prose and characterisation were too weak and ham-fisted to compensate for that. Also, Somoza appears to have a grasp of Plato's theories which I would find weak in a first year undergraduate—ironic in a book which seems designed as a showpiece for how clever the author is. ( )
2 vote siriaeve | Jul 18, 2016 |
One of those books I wanted to like, but didn't make it through (well, I speed-read passages here and there to get an idea of the plot).

Someone here named the (fictional) translator of the book as interruptor, and I concur with that. On top of that I got a used book, in which the former reader had underlined all the important words; so I was told everything that was important plot-wise twice, so the feeling of discovery, which I guess must be one of the interesting parts of reading this book, was totally lost on me.

Also the translator/interrupor of the book started out with a major translation of a work that he hadn't even (speed)read through? I would never do that. ( )
  mummimamma | Apr 20, 2016 |
An interesting idea which the author, unfortunately, simply does not pull off. The internal logic is flawed, as is the logic of his (straw man) detective character. The author's presentation of philosophy and logic as well as Plato's theory of the forms (which he insists on calling 'the existence of Ideas") are simplistic, and will annoy anyone who has studied it in any depth, at least as much as the liberties his translator says he takes with the text will annoy real translators. But none of that is what made it so haaaard for me to force myself through this book (it's for a book club, so I had to.)

I found it impossible to become in any way absorbed in the story because Somoza constantly distracts the reader with the two parts of the project, which appear to be most interesting/important to him and, which the critics are loving: the translator commenting on the piece (don't worry, I'm going to avoid spoilers, despite my rating) and the fictional literary device 'eidesis.' I'm sure plenty of people will say that this distraction was a deliberate part of the metafiction or, at least, that literary books aren't supposed to flow, they are supposed to make the reader work. I accept neither of those objections; It is clear in the latter parts of the book that we are supposed to be absorbed, or at least care about these characters (in the main text and footnotes) and I'm afraid I was never given the chance to connect with them, because of these two devices.

First, the eidesis, which at one point is described as 'subtle' but is the opposite. The repeated imagery (it's no spoiler to define "eidesis") stands out incongruously from page 1 so that a) it just reads like bad writing and then b) once we know what it is, it still jumps out as bad writing but now we're thinking, "alright already we get the image" and THEN we have to put up with the translator popping in to exclaim about the eidesis he has so cleverly discovered. Which brings me nicely to my second point.

Second, the translator. Any time I had managed to get past the writing (the eidesis wasn't the only problem,) and just when I was starting to become absorbed in the main story, the translator would appear with his thoughts on the matter. That would be fine if I wanted to know what the translator thought but, unfortunately, he is not only unnamed but un-introduced and simply forces himself upon us. I quickly began thinking of him as "the interrupter" and it stuck. What's worse, until fairly late in the piece, his comments are rarely anything that isn't damned obvious to the reader, already; in fact, on page 263 the translator comes up with a 'revelation' that I had wondered about on page 33 - now, an author has every right to reveal their story as they want but being 230 pages behind the reader suggests a need to credit their readers with a touch more intellect.

The sad thing about this book (without giving spoilers) is that there actually is no need for 'eidesis' to be invented to achieve what the author (fictional and real world) is attempting to achieve with it and so the language need not have been burdened by it. I know that might sound absurd to those who have read it, but it's actually not needed - I'm sure plenty of others will have seen what I'm referring to, as obliquely as I can, I don't think it takes a degree in Philosophy (though it will help!)

The saddest thing about the book, for me, is the portrayal of Plato's theory of forms as some life-quashing philosophy because it's exactly the opposite - of course, that can be forgiven, it is hard to see from inside the cave. ( )
1 vote Darcy-Conroy | Sep 28, 2015 |
Wildly original! Bizarre but hypnotic and enthralling on every page! There are two plotlines: one the Straightforward story of murder in ancient Athens right after the Peloponnesian War in an ancient Greek manuscript by an anonymous author COUPLED WITH periodic footnotes by Translator with his comments, feelings, and reactions. He feels the strange metaphors and similes in each chapter point to SOMETHING hidden in text. Somoza uses something he calls "eidetic imagery"--"repetition of metaphors or words which calls up images independent of the original text, but giving extra layers of meaning. Each chapter presents one of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, not necessarily in order.

The "Decipherer of Enigmas", Heracles Pontor--note the similarity of name to a modern-day fictional detective [physical description is similar too]--and Diagoras, a philosophy teacher from Plato's Academy, investigate murders. The first victim, a student from the Academy, is supposedly killed by wolves while out hunting and his heart torn from his body. In some sense, the novel is also philosophical; Heracles represents REASON and Diagoras the IDEA.

The Translator becomes obsessed with finding a "key" [secret message] and finally enters the story physically; the two plotlines converge. Now the book takes a frightening turn; two more classmates of the first victim are murdered [or in one case, is it suicide?], as well as a slave. Our intrepid duo sets out to solve all four murders. There is violence and a final confrontation. The novel's a balance between Reason and the Platonic Idea: Plato's Theory of Forms. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_Forms There's some of the cave allegory also. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_Cave

Characterization wasn't as important as the "whodunit" and the philosophy. I liked the way the book was set up; the footnotes led me by the hand; and the symposium in Chapter 7 was most informative. Sometimes I thought Somoza had boxed himself in but manages to escape with ingenious twists. The Spanish title: "Cave of the Ideas" I felt expressed better the content than the bland "Athenian Murders". I recommend this book highly, but don't read it at night! ( )
  janerawoof | Apr 25, 2015 |
Clever, and I don't mean that as a complement. The author is so wrapped up in creating an intriguing puzzle that he neglected to make any of the characters sufficiently real for me to care about their fates. It was sufficiently intriguing for me to finish it though. ( )
  daivid | Aug 20, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Somoza, José Carlosprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Coopmans, BrigitteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Laabs, KlausTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meinert, JoachimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sjöstrand, KarinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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There is an argument which holds good against the man who ventures to put anything whatever in writing on questions of this nature, it has often before been stated by me, and it seems suitable for the present occasion.
  For everything that exists there are three instruments by which the knowledge of it is necessarily imparted; fourth, there is the knowledge itself, and, as fifth, we must count the thing itself which is known and truly exists. The first is the name, the second the definition, the third the image ...

PLATO, Epistle VII
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The corpse lay on a fragile birchwood litter.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0349116180, Paperback)

trade edition paperback, fine

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:37 -0400)

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