By Ioanna Bourazopoulou
Published by Black and White Publishing
Reviewed by Jessica Patient
What Lot’s Wife Saw, Ioanna Bourazopoulou’s fifth novel (but first novel translated into English) tells the story of an ensemble cast of characters, struggling to survive after a biblical flood has swallowed most of Europe. At the Dead Sea, the earth has opened up to reveal a violet salt with addictive properties.
A mysterious company, Seventy-Five, has taken control of the distribution of the salt. They have more power than the government – they have created jobs for displaced people, restarted economies and built a port in Paris to transport their salt from an isolated colony, which is close to the source of this strange substance. The colony, controlled by Seventy-Five, is run by people who are trying to escape their past. Murderers, fugitives and liars are in positions of power. The Governor suddenly dies and the Seventy-Five want to find out who has killed the Governor. Phileas Book, a puzzler complier for The Times newspaper, is recruited to solve the mystery by reading the letters of the suspects, sieving through their lies and deceptions. Phileas must also face up to his own past.
I enjoyed the structure of the novel – in a series of letters, written by the suspects. The reader discovers the events alongside our investigator. However, I did find that the tone of the letters was the same for all of the characters. There was no variation of voice and it made it hard to remember which character was writing the letter. I found myself having to flick back to the character list at the front of the book. Maybe the uniqueness of each letter has been lost in translation.
Bourazopoulou explores the duality of the characters through the book with each character having to decide between good and evil. They must walk a thin line between their repressed life in the colony with their past life, many full of murder, robberies and crime, trying to creep out and infect their new way of life. Each character must resist the temptation of their old, dirty tricks if they want to stay. They must face the prospect of being banished from their privileged, perfect live on the colony and thrown back into their old lives.
All seven characters try to implicate each other, scheming and plotting to escape their guilt but wanting to stay in paradise means that they must face up to their past and even use those skills, implicating each other, scheming and plotting for power means that the part of the personality that they have repressed starts to take over.
The idea of duality and opposites is very strong in What Lot’s Wife Saw. Every character is at odds within themselves and also with several other characters. The medical doctor is suspicious of the Priest and this close relationship with the Governor’s Wife as not being able to fully trust himself and his judgments. Bourazopoulou looks at the contrasting ideas of religion and multinational companies and how they have similarities – both have enormous power and influence over people and countries. Throughout the novel, I kept wondering if the author was reflecting on Greece’s own situation with its failed government and corruption.
What Lot’s Wife Saw is crammed with rich ideas that you might love as you become fully immersed or you may start to resent as they hold up the plot. For me, I enjoyed the intriguing plot. Some of the rich and detailed descriptions were, at times too indulgent. There was on section I found the details very decadent and gruesome - The suspects cut up the Governor’s body as it must not contaminate their precious salt and burn the parts in the kitchen oven. It’s not for the faint hearted but the rest of the novel is fairly safe after the burning of the body!
At times the ideas are too intricate and they start to overpower the novel. What Lot’s Wife Saw is a slow, challenging read but it’s worth it in the end.