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Review: The Madness of Grief by Panayotis Cacoyannis

It’s London, 1969 and 16 year old Jane doesn’t know it yet, but her life is at a crisis point. Between the moon landing, her widowed magician father, the great Mr Magikoo’s girlfriend Mia Mia, Jane’s Auntie Ada and her best friend Karl, Jane’s about to grow up in a rush.

Panayotis Cacoyannis’s The Madness of Grief is more than a coming of age story – it’s an exploration of notions of truth, perception, forgiveness and the complexity of relationships. The backdrop of the moon landing, with one minor character questioning whether it’s a hoax, is just one aspect of the story’s preoccupation with the idea of what is real versus what is not.

The Madness of Grief

While the moon exerts a pull on the underlying idea of what’s real, an older event holds the key to the peculiar relationships of Jane’s life.

Jane’s mother was killed in a stage accident ten years ago during a Mr Magikoo stunt. Val’s death is entwined with her father George’s stage persona, forming the foundation of the themes of The Madness of Grief. Almost nothing is what it appears to be and how the characters understand their lives is a huge interleaving of guilt, lies of omission, blame, pain and misunderstanding. Throughout the narrative, what seems to be true is regularly stood on its head, and then upturned again as layers and layers of secrets and unspoken histories are revealed.

The story takes time to hit its stride, but the moment Jane walks in on Mia-Mia in the bathroom to discover her father’s girlfriend is a man, everything you thought you knew is thrown into the air.

In one particularly eventful night, Jane’s life is thrown into disarray, visited with violence, loss and even more revelation. Much is made of the disruption and pain that evolved from her mother’s tragic death and how grief has twisted blame, guilt and love as a result.

Some events which seem unforgivable are leavened with kindness and viewed through a prism of life having more than one truth to be told. So many of the protagonists are influenced for good or bad by others in their life – Karl’s sense of entitlement fostered by his controlling mother; Mia-Mia’s choices in the face of discovery, George’s guilt bringing him to hide his love for his daughter behind a crass facade; Ada’s cruel pleasure in blaming George for Val’s death, in part a response to how their mother favoured George’s needs.

Feelings can turn on a pin when sudden realisations and revelations fundamentally alter what we think we know. Some truths are brutal and best left unsaid; some lies are kindnesses; some acts are less cruel than ill-informed and sometimes, we’re willing to forgive that cruelty when it’s part of something larger.

Some of the abrupt narrative switches back in forth in time are difficult to follow to begin with, but the result is an intriguing and layered study of the vagaries of human nature. Those layers are densely packed and it can take a while to unpack, but what’s clear is that nobody is just one thing – not even the worst thing they’ve done. And even when the reader is less willing to forgive than Jane is, you can at least agree that foolishness and grief can make you do mad things.

Buy The Madness of Grief

The Madness of Grief (Amazon US)
The Madness of Grief (Amazon Australia)
The Madness of Grief (Kobo Audiobook)



Narrelle’s summer reading reclist

While not everyone gets a break over summer, it’s always a good time for a reading recommendations list. And given I managed to read (as of 24 December) 159 books and novellas in 2018 (let’s see if I can make it 160 by NYE), I thought I’d share some of my favourites with you!

Seasonal delights

I don’t generally make a point of reading seasonal tales, but I’ve read a few that delighted me in different ways this year. If you’re looking for something a little different, may I present:

Merry Happy Valkyrie: A Holiday Novella by Tansy Rayner Roberts. It’s Christmas, Jim, but not as you know it. Norse mythology, Tasmanian snow in summer, secrets and a movie studio making Xmas schmaltz. What could possibly go wrong apart from, you know, everything? TRR never fails to be delightful, and she’s particularly and vividly charming with this gorgeous story!

Unchaining Krampus by JP Reedman. It’s Christmas. It’s a fairytale. It’s horror and demons and goblins and self rescuing princesses. It’s a hoot.

Christmas Miracles of a Recently Fallen Spruce by Brandon Witt. I discovered this author through the Facebook MM group I haunt. It was cute and a lot of fun to follow Paxton Peterson’s meticulous planning all go to ruin through a snowmobile accident and the delicious advent of a handsome neighbour.

The Miracle of the Lights by Cindy Rizzo. Christmas isn’t the only festival that can fall this time of year. Rizzo’s sweet story is about two Hasidic Jewish girls in love, losing each other and finding each other during Hanukkah in New York City.

Patreon Novellas

One of the reasons my count is so high is that I’ve been reading lots of wonderful shorts and novellas from the writers I support on Patreon. I love Seanan McGuire‘s fantasy work and every few months I get a new one.

Another joy is the work of Tansy Rayner Roberts – and I’ve sung songs to her before in this blog. For those who listen to podcasts (I never had time) Tansy podcasts many of her books before releasing the ebook, so you can get in ahead. A recent absolute gem is Tea and Sympathetic Magic, a sassy, smart, funny, brilliant regency-style story of. Well. Tea and sympathetic magic. Read an excerpt on Tansy’s website.

I don’t restrict myself to her Patreon stories – I’ve also this year loved to pieces her Creature Court prequel Cabaret of Monsters (backed through a Kickstarter), Girl Reporter (the latest in her superhero series), the  and all the parts of the Belladonna University series.

Basically, you will never go wrong with a Tansy Rayner Roberts story.

Young Adult fiction

This year I finally got to Ellie Marney’s Every series, and tore through Every Breath, Every Word and Every Move. Set in modern Australia, the stories are a clever reworking of Sherlock Holmes influences while also being their own thing entirely. Of course I love them.

Alex Marchant (who edited the recent Richard III collection, Grant Me the Carving of My Name) first came to my attention as the author of the very fine Ricardian YA adventures The Order of the White Boar and The King’s Man. I’m looking forward to a third in the series, and recommend the first two very highly.

Romance! Adventure!

I’ve adored Emily Larkin‘s work for a while now and loved The Spinster’s Secret, My Lady Thief and Primrose and the Dreadful Duke.

In a similar vein, I’ve discovered Erica Ridley – more sassy Regency heroines, thank you!

Rohase Piercy’s My Dearest Holmes was recently re-released, after being one of the first officially published Holmes/Watson love stories, back in 1988.

A twist on canon-era Holmes/Watson has just come out from Improbable Press – K. Caine’s A Study in Velvet and Leather. Holmes is a queer woman, Watson is a queer man: bisexuality is a thing, and so is BDSM in the Victorian era. I loved it.

Non-Fiction

I also read some wonderful non fiction –  the account of the Burke and Wills expedition is thoroughly examined in The Dig Tree by Sarah Murgatroyd.

Vikki Petraitas’s The Frankston Serial Killer is an account of the murders that took place in Frankston in 1993 – compassionate and thorough, with a focus on the women who died and their families and communities.

Transgender Warriors : Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman by the late Leslie Feinberg and Strangers: Homosexual Love in the 19th Century by Graham Robb are both a little difficult to get, not being available in ebook form, but I learned a huge amount from both of them for current and upcoming books, and I recommend them thoroughly.

That’s probably more than enough to be getting on with! If you have any recommendations of your own, please let me know in the comments!

Wherever you are, whatever you celebrate at this time of year, my very best wishes to you all, and my hopes that this whole planet has a happy, hopeful, sunshiney new year.