Everyone loves a cat story, and Nannion by Andreas Androutsellis-Theotokis features the eponymous off-white street cat in a surprising science fiction tale of earth sciences and Greek history. Although not a story for children (Nannion, the cat’s namesake, was in fact a prostitute in Ancient Greece) there is a childlike quality to the narration that makes the cat’s relationship with Claire, a lonely and dying marine biologist working in the Aegean Sea around Athens and the island of Dioptra, cozy reading.
As the book goes on, other characters working in marine sciences come into the story. The team learns about all kinds of watery wonders that lurk in the waters of an abandoned experiment when a photograph of a shark piques their curiosity.
Nannion then experiences a life-changing event, but becomes less of a major player in the story. In fact, the story moves into an environmental science fiction near-disaster novel, with the scientists trying to figure out how to prevent a natural catastrophe on the island. The second half of the book definitely turns into something unexpected, sometimes sad, and is fairly creepy at times, especially when you get sentences such as,
About half a kilometer down the old spiral road, Humanoid summoned Eel…
Science is definitely put aside for spiritual and philosophical discourse, but then this is a novel set in Greece after all! Given this book is coming from a different cultural perspective to that of most English speakers, there is a set of cultural markers for the author that although completely unfamiliar and even odd at times, should add to the interest of this unique novel for readers.
The fact that it is also set partly in the 1950s, a period of recovery from the recent Civil War that meant financial and social ruin for years to come, is an interesting backdrop for a story about potential disaster, with modern political aggression rubbing up alongside the remains of Ancient Greece and all its struggles. There is something of Patricia Highsmith’s The Two Faces of January in the atmosphere of the book, where battles of philosophy and theology play out in front of the characters’ very eyes in miniature, leading to decisions that need to be made before things escalate to universal proportions. And such is this story: Starting out as a gentle street cat’s tale, it’s evident early on there’s many layers to be peeled back before we reach the end of this captivating journey.
There’s no doubt that Androutsellis-Theotokis took his native life experiences to create this work, and it’s to wonderful effect. Anyone reading this book, even if they have visited Greece, will find something they didn’t know about the locale here, guaranteed. He writes visually and in detail, so the many action scenes come to life. The bizarre nature of what the scientists find is well-imagined and original. The story is something like The Abyss with a cat and Ancient Greece in the mix for a really different take on the theme of science versus nature.
On the downside, there are some issues with proofreading, which is a shame as the book is so singularly unique. Also, readers shouldn’t be too disappointed that the cat, although key at times, isn’t in it as much as you might expect from the title and introduction of the book.
Overall, if you are looking for something different than your usual science fiction-fantasy read, then this is it, as you won’t find many books like Nannion.
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