THE MADNESS OF GRIEF by Panayotis Cacoyannis

It is 1969, London, and motherless teenager Jane is about to learn even more about the world, and her world, than she may possibly want to.

Cacoyannis’ trademark quirky style is evident once again as it dances around a … oh, what’s that word for not exactly sad? …. oh, yeah, poignant, that’s it …. poignant tale about secrets.  Everybody has them, don’t they.   Even me.  My secret is that I am not really 37.  But back to Jane, and her …  what’s the word for goofball in a good way? … oh, yeah, eccentric, that’s it … eccentric family and friends.  Her father is a magician.  Mr. Magikoo.  He is beloved by his fans, and spends a good deal of time touring the country with his wife and daughter.  Well, hey, it’s 1967, and in 1967 we all still thought the world was a lovely place, we were just coming out of that era of naiveté that spawned Milton Berle, Jackie Gleason, Benny Hill, Jimmy Durante, Sid Caesar, and the like, so Mr. Magikoo’s popularity is not such a stretch.

Well, the touring goes just fine until Mr. Magikoo kills his wife.  OK, OK, it was an accident, having to do with electricity and lightning, but still.  So he continues touring with his young daughter right up until the time he wanted her to walk between some swinging knives mechanism they dubbed the Sweeney Todd, until his sister put a stop to THAT, you better believe it!

Dad eventually takes up with a classy lady, Mia-Mia, who moves in, mostly, cleans and cooks and takes care of the two of them in their tiny house next to the magic shop, displacing Aunty Ada, who had been doing that for them, and whose nose was now a bit out of joint about it.

Jane has a bff, a young man, Karl, a classical pianist, who has a German mother who is a Reichian therapist, and a father who left them long ago for another woman.

Frau Angela had married a philandering Smith, and then, when it dawned on her what he was up to, divorced him and proudly reverted to Schmidt.  Frau Angela (who was now Dr. Schmidt) had then insisted on a hyphenated surname for their son, and Karl duly became a Schmidt-Smith.

If you have read enough Cacoyannis, you will already suspect that all is not as it seems, and that there are secrets that have other secrets, and that the book is actually an onion.  You know, layers, and layers, and every time you peel off a layer, your eyes tear up.

I am not going to tell you any of the secrets, because that would spoil the whole thing for you.  But remember that it is a book about secrets and identity, and realness and fantasy, grief and recovery, and what masquerades as fantasy often is a disguise for despair.

I admit to a smidge of disappointment with the ending.  I felt it was cliché and ..oh, what’s the word for facile and overdone?…. oh, yeah, trite, that’s it….. trite.  In fact, it could have done just splendidly without the final section altogether.  But what do I know?  I’m just a simple illiterate peasant who likes to read and muse on the human condition.  Those who can, do.  Those who can’t, criticize.  Guess which one I do.

I have to give Mr. Cacoyannis some serious praise for his seemingly innate ability to write a female character.  Not only a female character, but a teenage female character.  Everything about Jane struck just the right note, and I should know, having once myself been a teenage female, about a century ago or so.

So, funny, quirky, sad, surprising, clever and witty.  And the title?

That for everything else I forgave him, because the things that happened after we lost mum didn’t count, they were all part of a madness that couldn’t be helped.  That madness of grief….

 

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