WONDERFUL STORY IS FASCINATING FOR ITS IDEAS
Janey Bennett’s first novel has it all: adventure and suspense in an exotic location, a full cast of interesting characters, and thoughtfully rendered philosophical ideas…
In The Pale Surface of Things, Bennett masterfully interweaves characters’ interior journeys with fast-paced action set on the Greek island of Crete. Her writing is simple yet elegant, and creates a strong sense of place that greatly enriches the novel.
The book opens with Douglas Watkins, a young American who has never thought for himself, fleeing his wedding. He becomes caught up in the lives of the Cretans he meets in a small village.
Most important to Douglas are the American Greek Orthodox priest, Fr. Dimitrios, and Aleko, an intelligent young boy. Fr. Dimitrios helps Douglas to think about the consequences of his actions, and has a fascinating story of his own. Aleko is unwittingly involved in the feud that creates much of the novel’s action, and his uncle is convincingly awful as the villain of the story.
During the curse of a series of adventures, Douglas begins to understand what is important in life. If this makes the novel sound preachy, it’s not. A sense of ethics permeates Bennett’s writing, but usually not in a simplistic way.
The novel is about what is meaningful in individual lives, not the meaning of life in some grand sense. A number of characters are ordinary people with some extraordinary experiences who are struggling to live authentic lives.
There is a mythic aspect to the way Douglas faces one trial after another, and in some ways each prepares him for the next. However, The Pale Surface of Things is definitely written as a novel, not as a fairy tale or a simple morality play, and is informed by modern psychology and philosophical ideas from modern and ancient times.
If there is any criticism of this novel, it is that sometimes forgiveness comes too easily, dilemmas are resolved without much difficulty. But this Is more the exception than the rule. Many of the characters’ problems do not have easy solutions.
Characters try to come to terms with their personal histories, many of which, among the Cretans, are inseparable from the tragedies from the war.
The Pale Surface of Things is fascinating for its ideas, but it is first and foremost a wonderful story with interesting characters, and is well worth reading.
— Anna Marie Krohn